Fuel Cell Opportunities in Japan’s Automobile Market

Japan is backing up hydrogen technology attuned to its ambition to minimize harmful emissions and help ensure energy security. It is expected that Japan’s automotive fuel cell market will accelerate at CAGR of 30% and reach $1510 by the end of 2030. Cost, infrastructure and low level of end user acceptance are the major issues that needs to be addressed for fuelling the growth of fuel cell vehicles.

  • Definition / Scope
  • Market Overview
  • Key Metrics
  • Top Market Opportunities
  • Market Drivers
  • Market Restraints
  • Industry Challenges
  • Technology Trends
  • Regulatory Trends
  • Market Size and Forecast
  • Market Outlook
  • Technology Roadmap
  • Competitive Landscape
  • Key Market Players
  • Strategic Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix

Definition / Scope

In simple terms, a fuel cell is a device that generates electricity by a chemical reaction. A fuel cell operates as the reverse of electrolysis of water. While the process of electrolysis of water involve water when charged with electric current and electrode it decomposes into hydrogen and oxygen, a fuel cell generates water from hydrogen and oxygen and then extracts electricity produced in the process.

In automotive industry, fuel cells use a mixture of oxygen from the air and compressed hydrogen produce electricity to power an electric motor. Fuel cell are considered to be environmentally friendlier and much more efficient than the conventional internal combustion engine vehicles as they do not release harmful emissions.

Hydrogen is one of the abundant resources in the world. It comprises almost 70% of the matter of the universe. It will play an important role in the future energy mix. In context of problem of rising depletion of oil reserves and volatile oil prices, the hydrogen-based fuel cell is considered as the fuel of the future and is proving to one of the most likely solutions.

The adoption of fuel cells is mostly apparent in the automobile and residential industry in Japan. Japan’s economy is on the road to recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic. Considering this, the country is focusing on minimizing its greenhouse gas emissions footprint and one of the ways to do it is through swift adoption of fuel-based vehicles.

Japan is one of the strongest players in advancing the adoption of fuel cell in different sectors of the economy. Japan is leading the way in integrating fuel cells into its datacentre’s backup services, for heat and power at homes but essentially in automobile sector. Japan has been active in the commercialization of fuel cells systems since the early 2015. It did so by launching Ene-farm program which led to the use of over 120,000 residential fuel cell systems. Under this program, Japan added over 50,000 units of residential micro-CHO fuel cell system back in 2018.

Japan declared that by 2050 it has a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero and to realize a carbon neutral, decarbonizes society though its “Green Growth Strategy in line with Carbon Neutrality in 2050”. In this regard, Hydrogen is central to its clean energy transition drive. Japan was the front runner in launching a national hydrogen strategy to bring hydrogen cost competitive with natural gas. By the end of 2020, the country plans to have 800,000 fuel cell vehicles on the road and maximize the use of fuel cells in over 5 million residential households. Japan has implemented a H2 Mobility venture under which Japan plans to build refueling stations for the wider acceptance of hydrogen powered cars.

Market Overview

During the forecast period of 2020-2025, Asia-Pacific’s fuel cell market growth is expected to grow over 17%. Environment concerns, rising demand for clean electrical energy as well as government support in the form of policies and incentives are the main drivers pushing for its rapid adoption in Asia-Pacific region. The adoption of fuel cell in automobile is further exacerbated by the global phase out of BEC incentives along with government subsidies for fuel cell electric vehicles in Asian countries especially in China, Japan and South Korea.

The Fuel cell market is segmented on the basis of Type, End user, Application as well as the Region.

Fuel cells are adopted in various industries like automobile, transportation, logistics, power generation plants and combined heat and power (CHP) systems drives the growth of fuel cell market.

There is intense demand for hydrogen electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles because of the environmental concerns. Based on vehicles the Automotive Fuel Cell Market is categorized further into passenger vehicles, light commercial vehicles, and heavy commercial vehicle.

The passenger vehicles segment has the highest market share of 60% in 2020. Also, in terms of power rating, the market has been segmented into below 100 kW, 100-200 kW, and above 200 kW.

Present context of hydrogen systems in the Automobile industry

ApplicationPower/energy capacityEnergy efficiencyInvestment costLifetimeMaturity
Fuel cell vehicles80-120 KWTank-to-wheel efficiency 43-60% (HHV)$60,000 – 100,000150,000 kmEarly market introduction

Fuel Cell Market in Japan

The Japanese government has a holistic plan to integrate hydrogen fuel cell across different ministries and industries. In Japan, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry all have a stake in the expansion of hydrogen energy including autos, appliances, households as well as the energy companies. The Japanese government intends to set up a 1GW of larger fuel cell-based system by the end of 2030.

Tokyo metropolitan Government also used fuel cell technology to power several Olympic and Paralympics games in 2020. This offered ample opportunities for fuel cell players to foster its business in the country. For the Olympics, Toyota sold about 100 fuel cell powered buses used during the games held in Tokyo. Also, the Tokyo government formed a $350 million reserve to subsidize hydrogen-based fuel cell cars and refuelling stations.

Japanese make Toyota is considered as the pioneer in advancing fuel cell electric vehicle technology. Japan had over 2800 fuel cell vehicles on road in 2018 and further aims to increase that number to 8,00,000 by 2030. As of 2021, there are over 170 hydrogen filling stations for fuel cell electric vehicles 56 installed in Kato region alone. The concentration of these hydrogen stations is mainly spread across Japan’s major metropolitan areas from Tokyo to northern Kyushu.

TimeframePassenger vehiclesBuses and coachesForkliftsRefuelling stations
Current (as of April 2021)5492104326170; 10 in progress
Target40,000 by 2020
200,000 by 2025 800,000 by 2030
100 by 2020 1,200 by 2030500 by 2020 10,000 by 2030160 by 2020
320 by 2025
900 by 2030

Japan’s strategic roadmap to facilitate the development of fuel cell vehicle is divided into three sections – hydrogen use in automobile sector, hydrogen supply chain, and other applications for a global hydrogen society.

Hydrogen use in automobile sector

This plan aims to reach price parity between FCEVs and hybrid vehicles by reducing the exorbitant FCEV prices and ultimately narrowing the price gap by 2025. This is only possible though transparency and cooperation amongst all stakeholders such as government organizations, automobile industries as well as energy and power companies. The plan also aims to reduce the use of platinum in manufacturing process of fuel cells as of its exorbitantly high costs making the overall cost of fuel cell vehicle not commercially viable. Besides this, the plan also focuses on reducing the use of carbon fibre in hydrogen cylinders.

Hydrogen Supply Chain

This is a long-term roadmap with the aim to lower price of hydrogen at a level comparable to liquefied natural gas by the end of 2030. This aim rests on the backdrop of building hydrogen supply network and introducing government-level agreements with countries rich in hydrogen resources. Some of the initiatives in this regard include:

  • The Japan-Australia brown coal hydrogen project – Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HSEC), which builds supply chain network by dropping the costs of transporting and storing hydrogen in bulk.

Other Applications of Fuel Cell Technologies

In light of Japan’s commitment to fuel cells technologies, the country is pushing to commercialize the hydrogen power generation by utilizing CO2 free hydrogen in the future. Japan is also working to advance hydrogen society though mass commercialization of fuel cell vehicles

Besides this, Japan has been actively engaged in many public-private partnerships for promoting the use of fuel cells. In 2018. Toyota Motor Corporation, Nissan Motor Company, Ltd., and Honda Motor Company, Ltd., joined hands with France’s Air Liquide SA amongst other international gas and energy companies to build 80 new hydrogen stations by 2022. These stations will supplement the 101 refuelling facilities that were already in operation.

In spite of rapid growth prospects of fuel cell market, it is still in the early development stage with relatively high cost of manufacturing and maintenance compared to the conventional sources such as coal and natural gas.

Key Metrics

Base Year2020
Market StageGrowth
Market Revenues (2020, USD)$110 million
Projected Value (2030, USD)$1510 million
Market Growth Rate (2021-2025, %)30%
Number of Companies in the market 
Market Concentration (% of market share help by top 3 market players)

 Top Market Opportunities

Higher efficiency

Earlier EV vehicles used batteries for garnering electricity for vehicles. Now EV are switching from batteries to hydrogen fuels as it offers better fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions

Fuel cell vehicle is getting popularity due to its advanced performance, reduced refuelling time, and long-range compared to conventional fossil fuels vehicles. It is assessed that the fuel cell vehicle has superior driving range than a traditional vehicle by over 300 miles. Besides this, vehicles with fuel cell have reduced weight as they do not require to carry the weights of heavy batteries like their battery powered counterparts.

Moreover, Fuel cells generate energy and can be refuelled quickly unlike the batteries. Furthermore, hydrogen fuel cells have no carbon footprint. It is expected that with time and improvements, the cost of producing a fuel-cell vehicle will get down at a point which will be affordable for commercial use.

Runs on different catalyst

Fuel cells generates its energy from different fuels which was previously solely reliant on hydrogen. Some fuel cells based on the Proton-Exchange Membrane (PEM) need pure hydrogen for operations, whereas others are fuel-flexible. For example, Phosphoric Acid Fuel Cells (PAFCs), Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs), Alkaline Fuel Cells (AFCs), and Direct Methanol Fuel Cells (DMFCs) can work without the availability of pure hydrogen.

Strategic tie-ups

Japan has narrow energy reserves, complex geography and soaring production and transportation costs because of which Japan realized that it was not possible to meet the demand of hydrogen energy at home.

Considering this, Japan is prioritizing alliance on hydrogen pilot projects. Its existing partners include Australia, Saudi Arabia, Brunei and New Zealand. In 2020, Toyota tied up with Hino Motors for heavy-duty fuel cell trucks. Under this, Hino’s Profia truck will be featuring Toyota’s polymer electrolyte fuel-cell stacks. Similarly, Toyota and Eneos, an energy company have teamed up to advance hydrogen mobility. It is closely tied to Toyota’s future project Woven City into a hydrogen-based model city.

Other initiatives and public-private partnerships to promote hydrogen and fuel cell technologies in Japan include:

  • The research Association of hydrogen Supply/Utilization Technology (HySUT)
  • Fuel Cell Commercialization Conference of Japan (FCCI)

Covid 19

Covid 19 have intensified the wide adoption of fuel cells in different fields. One prominent reason for this is the proven correlation between COVID-19 and prolonged exposure to PM2.5. For instance, a statistical analysis by Harvard University conducted in November 2020 found that higher PM2.5 exposures are positively correlated with higher coronavirus mortality rates. This may lead to increase investments in green technologies.

Such findings will push the demand for clean mobility solutions even after the pandemic is over, wherein automotive fuel cell technology will play a critical role. Furthermore, hydrogen fuel cells have also been utilized by the healthcare industry to fight the contagion.

Apart from this, support for autonomous vehicles linked to EV and FCEV development is rising in Japan as of the need for driverless delivery induced by the pandemic. Since Japan has a long history in making hybrid vehicles, the accumulated knowledge and experience has come to aid for the growth of fuel-cell vehicles.

Market Drivers

Support from the government

Japan has been active in the commercialization of fuel cells systems since the early 2015. It did so by launching Ene-farm program which led to the use of over 120,000 residential fuel cell systems. Later, the country introduced a H2 Mobility venture to build refueling stations for the wider acceptance of hydrogen powered cars. Regarding this, Japanese government have decided to provide fuel cell vehicle buyers a purchase subsidy of about $4450.

Besides this, The Japanese government has set a zero emissions goal for 2050 valued at $19.2 billion and fuel cell appears to play an increasingly important role in achieving this goal. In 2021, Japan built a large-scale hydrogen supply chain project, investing around $2.7 billion to establish a commercial scale hydrogen supply chain by 2030. It also formulated a project with budget of $530 million to scale up and modularize electrolysers R&D with a view to entrust hydrogen production using renewable energy and in parallel reduce the cost of electrolysers by about 1/6 of the current cost.

Japan is also setting its sights to store huge amounts of hydrogen using chemical hydrides. Japan leads in terms of stationary application of fuel cell technology, with over 120 000 Ene-farm domestic fuel cell micro cogeneration systems which was installed back in 2014.

Volatile oil prices

One of the noteworthy reasons as to why Japan will switch to clean energy technologies is the growing concerns over supply security associated with petroleum fuels. Nearly 94% of Japan’s energy needs is met with imported fossil fuels, making it heavily reliant on other countries. Considering this, Japan is strongly pushing to reinforce development of hydrogen in order to decrease its fossil fuel dependency.

Increase in R&D

Japan has been considerably increasing its research and pilot testing of fuel cells in automobile sector to increase the efficiency of fuel cell usage in vehicles. The Japanese government offered a support package of around $380 million annually to the Japanese automakers for the research, progress, and commercialization of fuel cells. In 2020, The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) signed off a budget of $748 million to R&D and consumer subsidies for hydrogen technologies and clean mobility, up from $560 million in 2019. Later in the same year around December 2020, a new program, constituting around 46 projects by NEDO infused $4.6 billion, for the development and innovation of fuel cell technologies.

Market Restraints

High costs

  • High manufacturing costs

Unlike electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles do not have high volume applications to escalate demand and facilitate supply chain expansion. Moreover, fuel cells vehicles are more complex and require an onboard hydrogen tank, pumps and compressors which adds to the already expensive process of manufacturing vehicles. For instance, Toyota Mirai costs $62,680 which is triple the price of other cars in the same category.

  • High infrastructure costs

The cost of building a hydrogen refuelling station is exorbitantly high. It is estimated it will cost around 400 million to build a single refuelling station compared to 100 million required to build a conventional gas station. A consortium of 11 companies including Toyota and Nissan established Japan H2 Mobility, with the aim to build 80 hydrogen refueling stations by the end of 2021.

  • High cost of Hydrogen fuel

Hydrogen fuel is costlier than gasoline or electricity in terms of the price of fuel consumed per unit mile driven. By 2050, Japan plans to reduce the cost of hydrogen that corresponds to the cost of fossil fuels. One way to reduce the cost is to set up the production capacity abroad making more hydrogen available through import.

Highly reliant on hydrogen infrastructure

Fuel cell operation is highly dependent on hydrogen. However, hydrogen needs to be derived meaning it is an energy carrier unlike petroleum which is a primary energy source. The commercial use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is contingent on the availability of hydrogen fuel pumps. Besides this, hydrogen needs towering infrastructure for its production, storage, transportation as well as distribution.

Industry Challenges

Transformation at scale

Until renewables existed at scale, making hydrogen required vast inputs of fossil fuel, or nuclear energy which made hydrogen both more expensive and less efficient than other ways of storing and delivering energy. The existing fossil fuel infrastructure has been in place for decades on the account of trillions of dollars of invested legacy equipment and the companies that built it defend their assets. So, it is an arduous task for government to force that legacy equipment to be pushed aside in favor of radically new hydrogen infrastructure or for that matter renewable energy.

Production of hydrogen

Despite advances in the technology to generate hydrogen it still requires energy intensive processes which is largely fueled by fossil fuels or lots of electricity. The only way to produce truly green hydrogen is to produce it through sustainable energy. But even if renewable energy is used in the electrolysis process, the energy content that comes out is less than what goes in which leads some to argue that hydrogen is just a waste of renewable energy.

Availability of other battery electric vehicle alternatives

In response to the zero emissions initiatives, majority of the automakers are more inclined to producing battery-electric vehicles while some are into hydrogen fuel cells vehicles. As per a study by management consultancy Horváth & Partners, the battery-electric cars have an energy efficiency of 70% to 80% where as only about 25% to 35% energy efficient. This makes battery model cars a close competition to fuel cell cars in the electric vehicles segment.

End user acceptance

The reliability and durability can significantly affect the acceptance of fuel cell for commercial use. It includes a number of factors including functionality, cost, environmental factors, performance as well as the safety. Hydrogen is a very flammable gas and needs to be stored in specific way. The fear is sparked by the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. Thus, the safety of hydrogen is highly inflated subject matter.

Technology Trends

Regulatory Trends

Key supervisory authority and necessary amendments to promote automobile fuel cells industry include:

Other regulatory trends which shaped the Automobile Fuel cell market include:

  • In June 2021, an industrial policy called Green Growth Strategy through Carbon Neutrality in 2050 was introduced with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by the Prime Minister Suga administration. Likewise, related regulation was also revised constituting self-service hydrogen refueling stations.
  • In Japan, the Ministerial Liaison Council for Fuel Cell Implementation was formulated in 2002 and revised in March 2005 which reviewed six laws and 28 articles pertaining to fuel cells. The policies help in ensuring safety for the use of hydrogen fuel as for the use of pressurized natural gas.

Market Size and Forecast

In 2020, the global fuel cells market was valued at $310 million. It is estimated that the market will grow at CAGR 40% and will be worth $5834 million by the end of 2030. According to Mckinsey there are more than 350 large scale global hydrogen projects under way. The projected total investment in the hydrogen sector amounts to an estimated $500 billion.

The Proton Exchange Membrane segment is expected to accelerate at CAGR 18% and will reach $15.8 billion by the end of 2030. The growth in the Phosphoric Acid segment is estimated to grow at CAGR 18% in the forecast period. At present this segment accounts for 12.3% share of the global Fuel Cell Market.

In 2020, the Asia-Pacific fuel cells market was valued at $200 million. It is estimated that the market will grow at CAGR 38% and will be worth $3466 million by the end of 2030.

The environmentally friendly policies regarding reducing carbon emissions, expanding production capacity of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in developing countries appears to drive the global fuel cell market upwards. However, infrastructure development, high cost and preliminary stage have exacerbated its growth.

In 2020, the Asia-Pacific fuel cells market was valued at $110 million. It is estimated that the market will grow at CAGR 32% and will be worth $1510 million by the end of 2030.

Amidst all this, Japan plans to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen fuel production as well as scale up the supply chain. Its is focusing on the development of carrier technologies, hydrogen generation, fuel cell application in mobility and international collaboration to be at the forefront of adopting fuel cell in automobile sector.

Market Outlook

The implication of Covid induced lockdown led to the shutdown of manufacturing, transportation and production industries which brought the economy to grinding halt. Covid-19 also led to supply chain and demand disruption causing demand for key chemicals to drop by 7%. Furthermore, due to the shortage of components such as semiconductors caused by the disruption in the manufacturing and supply chains there was significant drop in the sales of Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicles.

The Japanese economy contracted by 29% during the second wave of the pandemic followed by its aging population, declining productivity and diminishing value of yen Nearing the end of 2021, Japan’s economy appears to be on the verge of contraction again.; owing to the growing number of Covid-19 cases in the country. The GDP of the third largest economy in the world shrunk by 4.8% as a result of the disruption of supply chain leading to the shortage of semiconductors crippling its automobile sector. Albeit this, Japan is 75% vaccinated and has one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world. With increasing electricity consumption and government support for the development of hydrogen infrastructure, the industry is expected to rebound faster.

According to a survey conducted in Japan, nearly 87.5% of enterprises in the transportation industry stated that they experienced an adverse impact of the Covid-19 on their corporate activities due to supply chain disruptions, project delays and lack of financial support for research and development activities. In addition, the public transportation budget will also get strained due to drop in ridership.

Although travel restriction has definitely had an unprecedented impact on the automobile sector but it is expected that the business will gain momentum from the early 2022 after the restriction has been lifted. In this regard, the Japanese government introduced stimulus packages worth two-thirds of its economy. Funds were prioritized for digital infrastructure initiatives and carbon-reducing technology to shape Japan’s post-COVID economy.

Technology Roadmap

The patents for fuel cell vehicles started in the mid-1990s and the number increased sharply in the 2000s. Following the revision of ZEV regulations in 2001 and 2003 there was prioritization of fuel cell vehicles compared to the electric vehicles. Prior to 2000s, vehicles applied methanol however post 2000s R&D shifted to hydrogen enabled vehicles.

Competitive Landscape

Asia-Pacific fuel cell market is fragmented and highly competitive without dominant players. Most of the dominant players in the region in concentrated in Japan, Korea and China.

Japanese fuel cell market players compete in terms of product launches, integration of technologies, mergers and acquisitions as well as collaboration with other players.

Key Market Players

Major Fuel Cell PlayersRevenueDescription
Toshiba Fuel Cell Power Systems Corporation$840 millionFounded in 2017 as a spun off of Toshiba Corporation, Toshiba Energy Systems and Solutions Corporation engages in the development, manufacture and sales of energy business products, systems and services.
Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Ltd.  $500 millionMitsubishi aims to lead the technological development of fuel cells and achieve higher capacity and efficiency gains. The company offers Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) which operates under high temperatures and form a power generating system that combines with micro gas turbines as replacement for thermal power plants.
Fuji Electric Company Ltd.  $8.3 billionHeadquartered in Tokyo Japan, The Company is working to expand the use of phosphoric acid fuel cells since its establishment in 1923. n Japan, Fuji Electric was the first to have dedicated factory for manufacturing fuel cells it was the pioneer in the field of phosphoric acid fuel cell power generation systems in the several kW to MW class.
Toyota Motor Corporation$245 billionToyota is capitalizing on the $1.17 billion hydrogen fuel cell vehicle market. The Japanese automaker stands 8th on the list of the 9 best hydrogen fuel cell stocks to buy as per a report by Yahoo Finance. The company manufactures and sells fuel cell-powered cars, hybrid cars, electric cars, and luxurious vehicles. The company markets hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars under Mirai and Sora names. Toyota has set its sights in developing fuel cell modules at its Georgetown, Kentucky, plant in 2023 for use in commercial vehicles,
Nissan Motor Corporation$90.8 millionThe company has been undertaking technical developments in the Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle space with its X-Trail FCV. Nissan developed its own next-generation fuel stack. In 2013, to advance FCEV R&D and acceptance, Daimler AG, Ford Motor Company, Nissan and Renault made an alliance for the joint development of a common fuel cell system. Likewise, in 2015, Toyota Motor Corporation, Honda Motor Co., Ltd. and Nissan teamed up for the development of hydrogen station infrastructure in the country.

Strategic Conclusion

Considering the increasing demand for electric vehicles and global inclination for emission control, fuel cell vehicles have immense opportunities for unprecedented rise. Japan is in innovative path to carbon neutrality by pioneering the production of green hydrogen.

Although there are certainly some challenges in short term such as building infrastructure, expensive vehicle cost and low-level adoption rate from the end user, in the future there is a great potential for the real hydrogen revolution.


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ASEANAssociation of Southeast Asian Nations
BECBusiness Energy Council
CAGRCompound Annual Growth Rate
EVElectric Vehicle
FCFully Charged
FCCIFuel Cell Commercialization Conference of Japan
FCEVFuel Cell Electric Vehicle
GDPGross Domestic Product
HSECHydrogen Energy Supply Chain
HySUTHydrogen Supply/Utilization Technology
HHVHigher Heating Value
IEAInternational Energy Agency
NEDONew Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization
METIThe Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
OEMOriginal Equipment Manufacturer
PEMFCsProton-Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell
PAFCPhosphoric Acid Fuel Cell
OEMOriginal Equipment Manufacturer
R&DResearch and Development
SMEsSmall and Medium Enterprises
SOFCsSolid Oxide Fuel Cells

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