14 Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen fuel cells are; environment-friendliness, flexibility, reliability, variety of potential energy sources, efficiency, rapid charge, long life, scalability, versatility, adaptability, affordable operational cost (advantages); high capital cost, hydrogen availability and extraction challenges, safety problems, potential hazards, regulation, adoption and infrastructural limitations (disadvantages).


A hydrogen fuel cell is an electrochemical cell like a battery, that generates electricity by converting chemical energy from the ionization of hydrogen and oxygen.

The advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen fuel cells, are discussed in this article, according to the following outline;


-Advantages of The Hydrogen Fuel Cell

-Disadvantages/Problems of The Hydrogen Fuel Cell




-Advantages of The Hydrogen Fuel Cell

1). Environment-Friendliness

The hydrogen fuel cell is viewed as a clean electricity-generation mechanism.

This is because there are no toxic by-products of the electrolytic chemical reactions that occur in a hydrogen fuel cell [17].

Given that water and heat are the main products of these reactions [1], the fuel cell is far more compatible with the environment, than other known energy technologies like gasoline engine.

Using hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity does not make any notable contribution to environmental problems like degradation, global warming and climate change.

Greenhouse emissions are also not produced by a hydrogen fuel cell, because the mechanism of electricity generation in the cell does not involve combustion of the hydrogen fuel [22].

Rather, the hydrogen fuel is made to undergo electrolytic reactions that lead to the flow of electric currents, and the generation of electricity.

Also, unlike other energy technologies such as electric generators and wind turbines, the hydrogen fuel cell does not typically cause noise pollution. Hydrogen fuel cells do not tend to cause visual (air, aesthetic) pollution [10], unlike other technologies such as solar panels.

Given the assertion that hydrogen fuel cells have zero-emissions and no toxic by products, it can be argued that they have no carbon footprint.

The widespread use of such an energy system, therefore, will be in line with the goals of sustainable development.

2). Flexibility and Reliability

The hydrogen fuel cell provides a relatively flexible and reliable electricity generation method.

In terms of reliability, hydrogen fuel cell technology is not susceptible to many of the potential problems that affect other electricity generation systems.

One of the reasons for this is the fact that the electrochemical reactions that occur in a hydrogen fuel cell, do not require any complex mechanical process.

Also, some recent hydrogen fuel cells have been proven to operate effectively under adverse environmental conditions [9].

The non-dependence of the fuel cell on external energy is another factor that makes it a reliable option.

With regards to flexibility, the performance of a hydrogen fuel cell can be adjusted and improved using a variety of factors, including the fuel purity, weight of the cell, the catalysts used, and the materials used for various components of the cell.

3). Variety of Potential Energy Sources for the Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Hydrogen, which is the fuel used in hydrogen fuel cells, is a highly abundant element on Earth [14].

Although it does not occur as a native element, there are a variety of natural resources from which hydrogen can be derived.

Many of these resources can be accessed locally, meaning that hydrogen can be produced as a domestic fuel.

Both renewable and nonrenewable resources can produce hydrogen, including natural gas, petroleum, water, biomass, coal, nuclear resources, solar, hydro-energy, and wind [15].

Renewable energy like solar and hydro can be used to power electrochemical processes that can breakdown water molecules and release hydrogen, whereas other nonrenewable resources like natural gas(methane) and biomass can be made to undergo physicochemical reformation, thereby producing hydrogen.

What these multiple sources imply is that, in spite of the techno-economic challenges that may occur when extracting hydrogen fuel, the raw materials required for this extraction are available.

4). Relatively-High Efficiency

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is considered to be both energy efficient and fuel efficient.

With regards to energy efficiency, studies show that the energy-density of hydrogen as a fuel, is significantly high [19].

When compared to LNG and diesel, it is estimated that hydrogen has approximately three times more energy density than these conventional fuels [5].

With respect to fuel efficiency, the use of catalysts in a hydrogen fuel cell, ensures that the fuel is used effectively, by making it to undergo electrochemical reactions that generate electricity.

The amount of energy lost as heat is relatively small in these cells, meaning that energy conservation is also achieved to a notable level.

Although hydrogen fuel cells are less efficient than traditional batteries like the lithium ion battery, they are known to operate at 40-60% energy efficiency. They also have the advantage of a higher energy density [2].

Provided the waste heat is also conserved using a cogeneration mechanism, a hydrogen fuel cell can achieve an efficiency of up to 85%.

5). The Hydrogen Fuel Cell can provide Rapid-Charge and Long-Usage Benefits

When a hydrogen fuel cell is used for electricity supply, its high-efficiency usually influences performance of the recipient electrical systems, in a positive way.

An example of this can be cited in the case of electric cars.

When electric cars are charged using hydrogen fuel cell power, the charging conditions are usually rapid and effective.

In the same vein, vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells, record a faster charging time than electric vehicles.

The effectiveness and efficiency of electricity supply by hydrogen fuel cells also means that the power which has been supplied, is likely to be used for a relatively long period of time.

Some estimates suggest that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have a longer average range than electric vehicles [13].

Because of these advantages, hydrogen fuel cell technology may be recommendable for use in remote areas.

6). Power Generation by the Hydrogen Fuel Cell is Scalable, Versatile and Adaptable

Hydrogen fuel technology is scalable to meet any power demand and project scale.

This is because fuel cells can be arranged in ‘stacks’, which may comprise of few or hundreds of cells that have been layered together [7].

There are various benefits of this scalability. They include reduced complexity, bulkiness and cost, as well as versatility of application.

Hydrogen fuel technology is versatile in its application, and has been used in a wide range of contexts including vehicle manufacturing [4], domestic electricity generation [16], and space shuttle power supply [12].

This means that hydrogen fuel cells are highly adaptable, to fit into a variety of scenarios where electricity is required.

advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen fuel cells: hydrogen fuel cell space shuttle spaceship
A Hydrogen Fuel Cell used as Power-Source in Space Shuttle (Credit:          NASA/Kim Shiflett 2006)


7). Fairly Affordable Operational Cost

Due to the flexible nature of hydrogen fuel cell technology, it is susceptible to modifications that lower the operational cost of using these systems.

Several of such modifications have already been proposed, and implemented.

Examples include the use of low-cost catalysts, thereby removing the high-cost associated with platinum catalyst [25].

Others include improvement of fuel energy density and efficiency [18], introduction of lightweight designs [23], and improvement of fuel stacking models.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology also has low operational cost because of the fact that it requires minimal maintenance, compared to electric batteries and combustion engines.

The clean energy production characteristics of the hydrogen fuel cell implies that the cost of environmental remediation is also eliminated by using these systems.

8). Hydrogen Fuel Cell can be Powered by Renewable Energy Resources

While hydrogen fuel cells do not essentially represent a renewable technology, the use of renewable energy to support hydrogen fuel cell technology,

Basically, renewable energy resources like biomass energy, solar, geothermal and wind, can be used to facilitate the production of hydrogen fuel, or to drive the electrolytic reactions that occur in a hydrogen fuel cell.

In either case, renewable energy usage helps to introduce a factor of sustainability into the field of fuel cell technology.

9). Relatively-long Lifecycle and Lifespan

In the field of energy storage, lifespan refers to the total amount of time during which a hydrogen fuel cell or battery can operate effectively, before it loses its performance and efficiency.

Lifecycle is an estimate of the total number of charge and discharge cycles, through which a hydrogen fuel cell, or battery can last, within its lifespan.

In general, hydrogen fuel cells have a fairly-long lifespan and lifecycle.

The average lifespan of a hydrogen fuel cell is about 11.6 years. This is based on an overall range of 5-20 years.

Hydrogen fuel cells have a lifecycle of up to 1,000, which may vary depending on the specific use, and features of the fuel cell.


-Disadvantages/Problems of The Hydrogen Fuel Cell

1). Significant Capital Cost of Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Although the operational cost (maintenance, electricity generation) for hydrogen fuel cells is relatively-minimal, a significant investment is usually needed to acquire these systems.

Basically, the cost of capital required for hydrogen fuel cells, and hydrogen-based power systems, is expensive [20].

These materials include precious metals that are used as electrode-catalysts, such as iridium and platinum, as well as the electrolyte membrane, and the hydrogen fuel itself.

The high cost of these materials can be attributed to the fact that hydrogen fuel cell technology is still in its developmental stage and is yet to be widely adopted.

2). Hydrogen Fuel Availability and Extraction

Although hydrogen is abundant on Earth, its extraction for use in a hydrogen fuel cell, presents some challenges.

One of these challenges is with regards to the complexity and energy demand of the extraction process.

Hydrogen extraction requires a notable amount of energy [6].

This energy is often derived from fossil fuels, with the release of greenhouse gases.

Also, the raw materials from which hydrogen fuel can be derived through processing, include fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and petroleum.

In the process of extracting hydrogen from these fossil fuels, carbon dioxide (CO2) is usually released [21]. This is a threat to the environment, as it contributes to climate change.

Carbon dioxide release during hydrogen extraction, compromises the zero-emission scheme of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

The dependence of hydrogen fuel cell technology on fossil fuels also reduces the overall reliability of the technology.

3). Safety Challenges and Potential Hazards

The two main safety concerns associated with hydrogen fuel cell technology, are the risk of explosions, and the risk of electrocution or electric surges.

Hydrogen gas is highly flammable and burns intensely in 4-75% air concentration [11]. This implies that the use of hydrogen fuel cells can lead to unfavorable fire incidents.

Due to the energy efficiency of the hydrogen fuel cell, it tends to operate under high-voltage conditions. This exposes handlers and users to the risk of electric shock.

4). Hydrogen Storage Requirements

Hydrogen is a very light, low-density substance [3].

These qualities make it difficult to store hydrogen effectively.

The liquefaction of hydrogen can only occur at a extremely low temperature of about -253°C [8].

To achieve this, 8-12kWh of energy must be supplied per kilogram of hydrogen [24]. Such demands make it impossible to practice energy conservation when using the hydrogen fuel cell, and increases the overall cost of use.

disadvantages of hydrogen fuel cells: hydrogen fuel cell liquefied hydrogen storage hydrogen liquefaction
Liquefied Hydrogen for the Hydrogen Fuel Cell (Credit: TomFawls 2013 .CC BY-SA 3.0.)

Storing hydrogen as a gas also requires high pressure. These requirements are a hindrance to the widespread adoption of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

5). Limitations of  Regulation, Adoption and Infrastructure

Regulations have played an important role in improving the safety, environment-friendliness, and performance of hydrogen fuel cells.

However, these regulations have also created barriers to the commercial deployment of hydrogen fuel cell technology, by adding more cost and complexity to the implementation process.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is yet to be widely adopted.

The reasons for this include regulatory challenges, implementation cost and technical difficulty, as well as infrastructure.

Infrastructural deficiency for hydrogen fuel cell projects, exists because the electricity-generation sector is dominated by other technologies like combustion engines and turbine generators.



The advantages of hydrogen fuel cell technology include;

  1. Environment-Friendliness
  2. Flexibility and Reliability
  3. Variety of Potential Energy Sources
  4. Relatively-High Efficiency
  5. Rapid-Charge and Long-Usage
  6. Scalable, Versatile and Adaptable
  7. Affordable Operational Cost
  8. Can be Powered by Renewable Energy Resources
  9. Relatively-long Lifecycle and Lifespan


Disadvantages of hydrogen fuel cell technology include;

    1. Capital Cost of Hydrogen Fuel Cell
    2. Hydrogen Availability and Extraction
    3. Safety Challenges and Potential Hazards
    4. Hydrogen Storage Requirements
    5. Regulation, Adoption and Infrastructure


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