Hydrogen Guide: Are Fuel Cell Stacks Really Worth It?
Everything you need to know about the price and potential benefits of fuel cell stacks.
Fuel cell stacks have been used in different industries for decades, but uptake has increased considerably in recent years. All this begs the question, is now the right time to invest in a fuel cell stack? Do prices look reasonable? And what is the real cost of a fuel cell stack?
In this guide, we’ll take you through all the information you need to know in deciding if now is the time to buy a fuel cell stack.
The Problem with Fuel Cell Stacks
While fuel cell stacks have been praised in recent years, they’re still relatively expensive compared to fossil fuel engines. This makes buying one costly, complex and out of reach of many businesses and individuals. In the current climate, is buying a fuel cell stack worth it?
We’ll take you through all the things to consider when making a decision.
The Price of Fuel Cell Stacks
Fuel cell stacks have historically had a reputation for being expensive. In 2010, for instance, the price could be around $ 4000- $ 6000 per kWh of power output. Since then, however, prices have plummeted. By 2023 fuel cells were hitting the market that cost around $ 200 – 400 per kWh.
This incredible reduction in the price of fuel cell stacks has been accompanied by a significant decrease in the price of the hydrogen needed to fuel them. As McKinsey reported in 2021, the cost of green hydrogen decreased by over 80% between 2010 and 2023, and is now as low as $ 2.4/kg.
By the end of this decade, it’s projected that renewable hydrogen could cost as little $ 1.4 per kg.
With this incredible drop in the price of fuel cell stack hardware and the hydrogen fuel needed to power them – buying a fuel cell stack has become increasingly affordable.
Fuel cell stacks offer greater efficiency than conventional means of generating electricity based on fossil fuels. The average coal power plant can achieve about 35% efficiency, and gasoline (petrol) powered cars usually have efficiencies between 20 and 28%. While these systems do produce electricity, vast amounts of energy are lost as heat.
Fuel cells, on the other hand, currently achieve efficiencies of between 40-60%. This means that more energy stored in the fuel is converted into electricity.
While the price of fuel cells is generally higher than fossil fuel engines, they offer far greater efficiency. As the price of hydrogen and fuel cell stacks continues to drop, investing in a fuel cell system will make sense to more businesses and individuals.
A significant advantage of fuel cell stacks is that they emit zero greenhouse gasses. While conventional engines and power generators emit harmful greenhouse gasses, fuel cells release only water vapor and warm air into the atmosphere.
Fuel cell stacks are a good investment for businesses looking to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. As governments worldwide begin to incentivize companies to transition to renewable energy, buying a fuel cell stack has become an increasingly attractive option.
Conventional engines have a problem. They’re extremely noisy, polluting and disturbing. Battery power – often considered an alternative – is also exceptionally heavy and challenging to install in remote locations.
Fuel cells, on the other hand, are highly versatile in terms of where they can be deployed. Being incredibly quiet and producing zero harmful emissions, fuel cell stacks can be installed almost everywhere; in residential buildings, near sensitive telecommunications equipment, or in other locations where clean air, low noise, and low weight are ideal.
While fossil fuel engines produce tons of noise and can cause a nuisance for nearby residents, fuel cells are one of the quietest ways of generating electricity. This means fewer disturbances for neighbours and the ability to position systems in various locations conventional fossil fuel generators cannot reach.
Robustness and Reliability
Hydrogen fuel cell technology has proven itself in harsh conditions. Fuel cell stacks can operate in weather environments like hurricanes, deserts, and winter storms, and are even functional in temperatures as low as -43 degrees C. While battery power – another renewable energy source – can often degrade in cold conditions and over time, fuel cell stacks can remain in operation in very rough conditions.
Despite the cost of fuel cell stacks, we’re shown how they offer various benefits over conventional power generation. They operate in demanding and cold conditions, are highly reliable, quiet, versatile and efficient, and produce zero harmful emissions. And while the price is still prohibitive for some businesses, over the past 10 years this has dropped considerably. With hydrogen now costing as low as $ 2.4/kg and fuel cell stack prices being around $ 200 to 400 per kWh – more businesses, research institutes and individuals are considering investing into this future renewable energy technology.