“Fuel cells are a genuine ‘clean’ technology,” says one of the study’s investigators, Professor Chris Hendry of the Cass Business School, London. “But re-investment in nuclear technology is likely to squeeze out the investment necessary to make fuel cells competitive with existing energy sources and with other non-nuclear alternative energy options.”
The study, co-written by Prof. Hendry, Dr. Paul Harborne, James Brown and Prof. Dinos Arcoumanis, gives a strong clue to one of the major obstacles to development by referring to fuel cell technology as a disruptive innovation. A disruptive innovation, if successful, eventually overturns the existing product on the market. Recent examples include the digital camera and the compact disc. Disruptive innovations are radically different from the existing dominant technology and to begin with they are often not as good. The result is two-fold. First the proponents of existing technology are likely to fear and so resist the new development. Second, because profits are unlikely to be immediate, funding can be problematic.
The automotive industry and stationary power provide examples of fuel cells as a disruptive innovation. However, while their potential is being pursued in the UK, Germany, North America and Japan, interviews with seventy companies in these countries show the UK fuel cell industry is lagging behind.
The UK is comparatively strong in developing hydrogen as a fuel source, reflecting the interests of the oil and gas companies, and in fuel cell components. Indeed, university research has led to the establishment of a number of new firms. Nevertheless the industry supply chain for fuel cells is generally underdeveloped and there have been few efforts by government to support the creation of a market.
In stark contrast, the study finds, Germany has more medium and large firms along the supply chain as well as technological excellence in engineering and electronics to support the overall design of fuel cell systems. It has energy supply companies committed to testing fuel cells, and there are active government incentives. As a result, Germany has 75 per cent of the installations in Europe. Germany and Japan offer the most favourable conditions for fuel cells in residential combined heat and power and, the authors say, may well become ‘lead countries’ in technology and market development.
Buses seem a promising test-bed for fuel cells but, as Hendry and his co-authors point out, large technical systems like transport and power generation are embedded in institutional and economic commitments which fuel cells will have to overcome. Bus manufacturers and operators are lukewarm and, with the exception of Iceland, there is little evidence of coherent government transport and taxation strategies anywhere in the world to encourage the transition to low emission buses. As a result, the bus market is failing to provide a viable niche for fuel cells, let alone a foothold for wider automotive applications.
This shows the limitations imposed by framing demonstration projects as ‘technological’ rather than ‘social’ experiments and the need for continuing public procurement to provide a bridge beyond demonstrations. “The role of a clear guiding vision and political will,” the authors say, “is illustrated by Japan, which has bypassed bus demonstrations in favour of building a fuel infrastructure that can be used by the automotive industry to support the development of cars.”
Annika Howard | alfa
New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)
Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences
26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy