Just 4% of all zero-emission road vehicles (ZEVs) will be powered by hydrogen in 20 years’ time, according to a new report by IDTechEx.

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The UK-based analyst says it expects fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) to remain “a very small portion” of the car market, but that almost a fifth of ZEV trucks will run on H2 by 2044, according to its Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles 2024-2044 study.

It also predicts a limited market for hydrogen-powered buses and light commercial vehicles (ie, vans).


“In 2022, FCEVs represented only 0.2% of zero-emission car sales, with sales declining slightly from 2021. Despite the benefits of long-range and quick refueling, FCEV cars have not made anywhere near the progress of BEVs [battery electric vehicles],” says IDTechEx.

“The largest factors in this struggle have been the lack of hydrogen refueling infrastructure, the cost of hydrogen, and the upfront cost of the vehicles. Any success so far has been bolstered by hefty government and OEM incentives, where the upfront cost of the car is heavily subsidised and, in some cases, the cost of fuel was covered for a period of time.”

Examples include Toyota offering its $50,000 Mirai for under $18,000 in California, along with 100,000km of free fuel, and Hyundai offering its $60,000 Nexo at half price in South Korea.

IDTechEx points out that BEVs are far cheaper to run than FCEVs — $0.04 per mile for a Tesla Model 3 in California compared to $0.21/mile for a Toyota Mirai.

“Given the greater upfront cost for FCEVs over both combustion engine vehicles and BEVs, an increasing running cost makes an FC [fuel-cell] car a hard sell for consumers,” the company states.

“Another major concern is the lack of hydrogen filling stations; as of June 2023, there were approximately 1,100 stations globally. While this is over double what it was in 2019, it is not enough for consumers to be comfortable with refueling.”

The analyst continues: “IDTechEx does expect FCEV car sales to grow in the long term with greater general availability of hydrogen in other applications and a push from governments invested in creating a hydrogen economy, but FCEVs will remain a very small portion of the zero-emission passenger car market.”


IDTechEx points out that the heavy-duty truck market “is usually the one where people see the greatest opportunity”.

And while it does see a fairly bright future for FCEV trucks, it argues that the lion’s share of the sector will run on batteries, rather than fuel cells.

“The cost and availability of low-cost green hydrogen is nowhere near where it needs to be for the economical zero-emission operation of an FC truck fleet,” IDTechEx states.

It then points out that about 75% of an initial source of renewable energy would make it to a BEV truck’s wheels, compared to 25% for an FCEV truck, due to the energy losses in the production of green hydrogen and the conversion of H2 back into electricity inside a fuel cell.

“Greater adoption of megawatt charging also means that BEV trucks can charge faster during a driver’s break, further limiting the need for longer ranges,” it continues.

“However, there will still be long-haul routes and drive cycles that will still be difficult to achieve with BEVs. Daimler demonstrated a 1,000km route with its FC truck in 2023, showing what could be possible.”

The analyst adds that while BEVs “will also be the dominant solution in the zero-emission truck market, there is certainly a greater opportunity for FCEVs here than in other on-road transport segments, with IDTechEx forecasting that FC trucks will be 19% of the zero-emission heavy-duty truck market in 2044”.


The analyst adds that city buses will largely run on batteries in the future, although “there may be greater potential for FCEV in the intercity coach market”, ie, long-distance buses travelling between cities.

“Although fuel cell buses are attracting attention, with some countries committing significant investment into developing the needed hydrogen infrastructure, FCEV technology is chasing a moving target, with the BEV buses also improving (batteries, charging infrastructure, and bus timetable schedule optimisation). FCEV will find it difficult to catch up,” IDTechEx says.

“As a result, IDTechEx forecasts a low penetration of FCEV city buses, restricted to a limited number of countries investing heavily in building hydrogen infrastructure and to those bus route schedules that are unfeasible for one BEV bus to operate.”

Light commercial vehicles (vans)

The outlook for light commercial vehicles (LCVs) is similar to that for cars, but the argument against fuel-cell vans “may be even stronger”, the analyst states.

“Total cost of ownership (TCO) is the strongest driver for LCVs; combine this with the fact that typical BEV ranges are sufficient for the vast majority of LCV drive cycles, and the need for the longer range and faster refueling of FCEVs is largely negated.

“The only use case may be for longer-range deliveries between certain cities, but in large part, this would be catered for by trucks. Therefore, the only growth opportunity for FC LCVs in the near term is in regions with a strong government push for hydrogen economy and on longer-range routes.”

The full report is only available to IDTechEx subscribers, but the company’s principal technology analyst James Edmondson, will be presenting a free-to-attend webinar on the topic on 18 January, entitled What Opportunities are Left for Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles?