The number of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) on the world’s roads increased by 40% in 2022, compared to 2021, totalling more than 72,000 vehicles, according to figures in the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) new Global EV Outlook 2023 report.

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The IEA does not provide exact figures, but this implies that about 20,500 new FCEVs were sold in 2022, with the report adding that 15,000 of those were cars.

The agency devotes only five paragraphs and two charts to FCEVs in the 142-page report, pointing out that its use of the term “electric vehicle” only refers to battery electric and plug-in hybrids, and explicitly excludes FCEVs.

Sales of non-hydrogen electric cars exceeded 10 million in 2022, up 55% compared to 2021, with just under 30% of these being plug-in hybrids, it adds.

In addition, more than 310,000 electric light commercial vehicles, nearly 66,000 electric buses and 60,000 electric medium- and heavy-duty trucks were sold in 2022.

And while many believe that hydrogen trucks will dominate road freight in the future, due to the ability to refuel a truck in only a few minutes, compared to potentially hours for battery recharging, the IEA report points out that battery swapping — which also only takes three to five minutes — is becoming popular in China.

Almost 2,000 battery-swapping stations are already up and running in the country and more than 12,000 battery swapping-enabled electric trucks — manufactured by six companies — were sold in China in 2022 alone, the agency explains.

What the IEA does say about FCEVs

In the handful of paragraphs about FCEVs in the report, the IEA states that about 80% of the global stock are cars, with 10% being trucks and almost 10% buses.

“In 2022, the fuel cell truck segment grew at a faster rate than cars and buses, increasing 60%,” the agency writes.

“Two thirds of the additional 15,000 fuel cell cars that hit the road in 2022 were in [South] Korea.”

The second-largest market for FCEVs is the US, with more than 15,000 FCEVs, most of which are cars, “with a little more than 200 fuel cell buses”, it explains.

“In 2022, the stock of FCEVs in the US increased more than 20%, which is much less than the 60% growth in China, which has the third-largest FCEV stock.”

China is home to more than 95% of the world’s hydrogen trucks, and almost 85 % of the global fuel cell bus fleet, the report says, adding that the country’s first 200 hydrogen cars were added to its FCEV fleet in 2022 “after years of only deploying buses and trucks”.

Japan had the fourth biggest FCEV fleet in 2022, followed by Germany.

The report also states that there were 1,020 hydrogen refuelling stations in operation around the world in 2022, with China having the most, followed by South Korea, Japan, Germany and the US.