Fuel Cells Will Become Competitive When They Become Platinum-Free

Roland Berger Strategy Consultants partner Wolfgang Bernhart explains the facts of life about automotive fuel cells and that in the mid-term, battery and hybrids systems will 'forge the way to zero-emission mobility in the near future.'

Published: 17-Jan-2014

Fuel cell vehicles could be an attractive alternative to battery-powered cars in realizing zero-emission vehicles. Fuel cells have long been considered a promising technology for circumventing the problem of limited battery range. However, success depends heavily on the price. “So far the high production costs of fuel-cell systems and the lack of infrastructure have prevented the long anticipated launch on the mass market,” says Wolfgang Bernhart, Partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants.”Even though the costs for manufacturing fuel-cell systems will drop considerably in the future, major technical obstacles must first be overcome before fuel cells achieve a breakthrough in the automotive sector.”

A new study by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants entitled “Fuel cells – A realistic alternative for zero emission?” paints a fairly bleak picture of this technology over the medium term. According to the experts at Roland Berger, it will be possible to cut production costs for fuel-cell systems by up to 80% by 2025. Even though this will provide fuel-cell technology with initial business opportunities, this reduction will still not be enough to achieve a breakthrough on the market.

A fuel-cell system currently costs around EUR 45,000 per vehicle. Accounting for up to 45% of the costs is the membrane electrode assembly (MEA), which converts hydrogen into electric energy and which is made of expensive platinum. Even assuming mass annual production of 300,000 fuel-cell vehicles, platinum would still account for more than 70% of the manufacturing costs – one MEA alone would still cost approx. EUR 2,500 per vehicle. If it were actually possible to somehow optimize the manufacturing process, such as by reducing the amount of platinum needed to a mere 15 grams per vehicle, the experts at Roland Berger believe costs could be cut to about EUR 1,000. Platinum, however, would remain the biggest cost driver.

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