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There are no quick fixes to long-term energy challenges. To find solutions, governments and industry benefit from sharing resources and accelerating results. For this reason the IEA enables independent groups of experts - the Energy Technology Initiatives, or ETIs1.

Advanced Fuel Cells

One of 20 buses powered by hydrogen fuel cells as part of a demonstration project launched for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games (Vancouver, British Columbia).*

All on board the clean machines

Policy context
Fuel cells are devices that use a chemical reaction to generate electricity. Fuel cells are polyvalent: they can use many types of fuels including primary or secondary fossil fuels, synthetic gases, and renewable sources such as biofuels and hydrogen. Fuel cells may be used as small batteries, electrical power plants as electrical propulsion for vehicles. Fuel cell pilot and demonstration programmes provide much-needed information to further improve the energy output from fuel cells, reduce investment risk and reduce production costs. Further support for research will be needed to fully capitalise on the fuel cell principle.

The ETI focusing on fuel cells (AFC) advances understanding in the field of advanced fuel cells through a coordinated programme of research, technology development and systems analysis. This includes expert networks that enable specialists to share research, development and demonstration results; defining measurement and monitoring techniques; exchanging information on cell, stack and system performance; collaborating on the development of new procedures and models; and sharing information on application requirements. There are currently 15 Contracting Parties, including Mexico and Israel.

To gain understanding of how fuel cells may be deployed in transportation applications, one AFC project, Fuel Cells for Transport, reviewed the state-of-the-art of the rapidly developing fuel cell technologies for buses.

The specific objectives of this task are to improve the understanding of fuel cell systems, on-board hydrogen storage systems, directions of recent technology development activities, approaches for cost reduction, and field data from large-scale demonstration projects. Data related to performance, reliability, and cost were gathered, with a view to identifying and quantifying potential improvements needed to match national targets.

Compared to traditional diesel or newer diesel-battery hybrid systems, zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel cell‑powered buses could provide operational as well as environmental benefits. The report found that the reliability (availability, stack lifetime and miles between road calls) of fuel cell buses is increasing. In many instances, availability has been limited by failures of control and other electric components rather than the fuel cell stack. In addition, the recent generation of fuel cell buses has consistently shown fuel economies twice as great (eight miles per diesel gallon equivalent) as conventional buses powered by diesel and compressed natural gas engines.

Many fuel cell bus demonstration projects have been carried out around the world, including Brazil, Canada, China, Europe, Korea and the United States. A programme with 20 hydrogen fuel cell buses funded by the Canadian national and local governments inaugurated during the 2010 Olympic Games, is still operating. The bus fleet has already logged over 1 million kilometres, demonstrating that the life span of fuel cell vehicles is approaching that of gasoline engines. Challenges remain for full commercialisation of fuel cell buses, primarily in achieving durability and reducing costs. Further analysis will focus on the economy of fuel cell vehicles combined with hydrogen production facilities. 

Photo courtesy of Chris Cassidy, BusShots.

Current projects

  • Fuel cell systems for stationary applications
  • Fuel cells for portable applications
  • Fuel cells for transportation 
  • Molten carbonate fuel cells
  • Polymer electrolyte fuel cells
  • Solid oxide fuel cells
  • Systems analysis of fuel cells

For more information: 


1.Information or material of the IEA Energy Technology Initiatives, or ETIs (formally organised under the auspices of an Implementing Agreement), including information or material published on this website, does not necessarily represent the views or policies of the IEA Secretariat or of the IEA’s individual Member countries. The IEA does not make any representation or warranty (express or implied) in respect of such information (including as to its completeness, accuracy or non-infringement) and shall not be held liable for any use of, or reliance on, such information.