The Potential Growth of Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles in Emerging Economies

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has recently published a research paper that explores the potential growth of fuel cell electric cars, trucks, and buses in emerging economies. This new study sheds light on the role of hydrogen consumption and its limited impact on the overall road transport sector.

Let’s delve into the key findings of the report and understand the opportunities and challenges associated with fuel cell electric vehicles in these economies.

Focus on Emerging Economies

The IEA report focuses on six major emerging economies: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and South Africa. Collectively, these countries represented 14% of global road transport energy demand in 2000, and this figure is projected to rise to 27% by 2021. Their energy consumption patterns provide valuable insights into the potential growth of fuel cell electric vehicles.

Projected Fuel Consumption in Emerging Economies

Under the IEA’s Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS), total road transport fuel consumption in these economies is expected to increase to 725 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) by 2050. However, fossil fuel use is projected to peak around 2030 and decline thereafter.

In the more ambitious Announced Pledges Scenario (APS), fuel consumption peaks at approximately 660 Mtoe by the end of the decade, resulting in a decline to 500 Mtoe by 2050.

Role of Electricity and Hydrogen

Both scenarios indicate fuel consumption declines due to improved fuel economy, increased electricity usage, and, to a lesser extent, hydrogen usage.

The expanding electric vehicle fleet, which relies heavily on electricity, will account for more than 40% of transport energy consumption. This highlights the importance of decarbonizing energy generation and modernizing electricity grids to support the growth of electric vehicles.

Challenges in Decarbonizing the Road Freight Sector

Decarbonizing the road freight sector presents unique challenges. Despite economic expansion and population growth boosting the demand for goods transport, electric or fuel cell options may not always be readily available or cost-effective.

This poses a significant obstacle to reducing emissions in the commercial transportation industry. Additionally, truck emissions are projected to continue rising until the end of the decade, even in the more ambitious APS.

The Role of Governments in Clean Energy Transitions

Governments play a crucial role in leading clean energy transitions in the road transport sector.

The report highlights the need for specific transport policy interventions, clear decision-making processes, and empowered implementing agencies in major emerging economies. These interventions will help accelerate the adoption of fuel cell electric vehicles and other clean energy solutions.

Investment Requirements

To achieve the goals outlined in the APS, substantial investments are necessary. The report suggests that annual investment needs to reach $150 billion between 2026 and 2030, increasing to over $230 billion by 2050. This underscores the importance of financial support and sustainable funding mechanisms to drive clean energy transitions in the road transport sector.


The IEA’s research paper on the potential growth of fuel cell electric vehicles in emerging economies offers valuable insights into the future of clean and efficient transportation. While hydrogen consumption is projected to have a limited role in the road transport sector overall, fuel cell electric vehicles powered by electricity show promise.

Governments must take the lead in implementing specific policies, investing in infrastructure, and empowering agencies to drive clean energy transitions. With the right interventions and investments, emerging economies can leapfrog outdated road transport models and pave the way for a sustainable and decarbonized future.

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