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Results on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells

An interpretation of the R&D investments broken down per technology as shown in the following needs to take into account the associated uncertainties described in section 'Analysis of uncertainties'. In specific cases these may be higher than the actual differences in the R&D investments between individual technologies, therefore impeding a direct comparison between different sectors.

Hydrogen and fuel-cells seem to attract the largest R&D investments among the non-nuclear energy technologies considered in this report: around €616 million are dedicated to this technology. This elevated investment may be explained by the fact that, unlike for most other technologies assessed, the category 'hydrogen and fuel cells' comprises an entire fuel chain from production to consumption with a broad range of transportation, stationary and portable applications, thus attracting a large number of different private and public actors. As such, a multitude of different single technologies are subsumed under the heading 'hydrogen and fuel cells', all of which are at different levels of maturity.

Public R&D investments of EU Member States in 2007 and (annualised) EU funds under FP6 amounted to around €241 million, with the EU funding under FP6 having accounted for more than one quarter of this. This would mean that the EU FP6 funds for H2/FC research projects reached around €70 million on an annual average (€280 million over the duration of FP6). This figures remains below the estimates of other sources that are in the order of €300-320 million (European Commission, 2007b; Filiou et al., 2009; Orion Innovations, 2008). This discrepancy can be explained by the allocation process undertaken in the present work (see section 2.4). If all projects that were somehow related to H2/FC research had been allocated to H2/FC (even though their focus has been on other research areas such as CCS), the total EU R&D investment in H2/FC would have reached €318 million in the present analysis. However, for consistency reasons, such double counting has been avoided, which may have caused some (limited) distortions for individual sectors (see also chapter "Analysis of uncertainties").

Compared to the year 2006, public national R&D budgets of the EU Member States included in the analysis increased by 17%. Member States with important R&D spending on hydrogen and fuel cells include France, Germany, Italy and Denmark, followed by the UK with some distance (see Figure 17). The same countries also host the companies with the largest corporate R&D investments, led by German, British and French companies.

The public R&D investments found in the present report remain below those of a recent publication based on data from the HY-CO project, according to which the aggregated EU and Member States budgets amounted to €275 million in 2005 with further increases to be expected (Neef, 2008). Parts of the discrepancies may be explained by missing data on regional R&D funds that are excluded for some countries. In Germany, for example, hydrogen and fuel-cell related research investments financed by the Länder amounted to €18 million in 2006 (Schneider, 2007). It is also possible that the important regional investments into H2/FC-related research in Italy are not included in the IEA database.

The high corporate R&D investments (€375 million) might be explained by the number of companies interested in this research area as well as the fact that this technology is considered as a strategic research field for many of the large multinational companies with high overall research expenditures. The present assessment looked into 68 companies active in this area, among them eight car manufacturers; six oil companies or utilities and four large component suppliers. The remainder predominantly comprises various small companies specialised in fuel cells, but also includes some large chemical or gas companies that are mainly involved in hydrogen-related research.

In particular for multinational companies it is important to recall that the approach used in this report allocates the R&D investment to the location of headquarters and not to the country in which the research is effectively being carried out. This may explain part of the differences of the present results with other studies:

  • The '2007 Worldwide Fuel Cell Industry Survey' http://www.usfcc.com/resources/2007worldwide_survey_final_low.pdf (PWC et al., 2007) collected data on the global fuel cell industry through a web-based survey. It finds that global R&D investment in fuel cells amounted to US$829 million in 2006. However, only some US$107 million (ca. €80 millionIf this amount was amended by data for the Netherlands and France (based on figures from ECN (Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands) and l'Association Française de l'Hydrogène), which are not explicitly included, the EU total would rise to some €150 million. Such an approach would however lead to major methodological problems.) occurred in EU Member States. Compared with the findings of the present work, this estimate on EU investment in the Fuel Cell Survey seems rather low. This may primarily be due to the differences in the allocation of companies to geographic regions, which is of particular importance for this sector as it involves many multinational companies. Unlike the present report, the Fuel Cell Report allocates R&D investments to the country in which the R&D is being carried out. In addition, the response rate of EU based companies in the study was limited (out of the 182 responses, only 37 where received from EU companies). Finally, the Fuel Cell Report concentrates on fuel cells and therefore leaves out the hydrogen production part.
  • The SRS project concludes that some €30 million were spent on hydrogen-related research in 2005. According to ERMINE, even less (€14 million) was spent on that line of research, yet restricted to the electricity sector. These differences cannot be explained in simple terms but may partially be due to the lack of data in those projects. Furthermore, car manufacturers, which are among the prime investors in fuel cells according to our analysis, are not considered by the ERMINE study.
  • In 2004, the IEA roughly estimated the private sector's R&D investment in hydrogen and fuel cells to be in the order of US$3-4 billion (IEA, 2004). Despite the lack of a regional breakdown and important developments in the sector since then, this estimation would support the order of magnitude of the present assessment.

Given the particular uncertainties for deriving the corporate R&D investments in the present report and considering the wide span of results found in literature, the results on industrial R&D investments in H2/FC must be regarded with care. A further comparison would be needed with a special focus on the differences in the geographical allocation and definition of the sectoral boundaries.

Results hydrogen and fuel cells

Figure 17: Approximate R&D investment in hydrogen and fuel cells from industry and public sectors 

Source: Own analysis based on IEA RD&D statistics and official information from some Member States; FP6; EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard

Note: Some EU Member States are not IEA member and do thus not figure in the database; for others no data are available. Portuguese R&D investments cannot be displayed at the current scale of the chart. No annual average estimated for Belgium due to a limited number of data.