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What really is the actual cost of owning a fuel cell stack?

In recent years fuel cell stacks have become a popular alternative to fossil fuel-based generators and engines. Offering superior efficiency and greater adaptability all while being zero-emissions – fuel cell stacks provide consumers with countless benefits over their more polluting counterparts.

Yet consumers should be aware that investing in a fuel cell stack should mean considering the cost over the system's entire life cycle. This 'true' cost takes into account a range of factors that you'll have to think about beyond the initial purchase price – such as maintenance costs, the price of hydrogen fuel, operating conditions, but also any long-term savings and resale value.

We'll take you through everything you should know about the true cost of these renewable energy systems.

What factors can affect this 'true', hidden price?  We’ll take you through them below.

1. Initial Purchase Price

One of the most significant factors to consider when investing in one of these systems is the initial purchase price. While the days of cheap fuel cell stacks are coming soon, at the moment the price can range from $ 500 to the tens of thousands. While this might seem high, it's important to remember that fuel cells have a long lifespan and with proper maintenance they can last up to 10 or 20 years. Not only this, but many governments around the world offer funding in the form of grants or tax incentives that can help lower the price paid upfront.


2. Maintenance Costs

You'll also need to take into account any costs of maintenance. Regular inspections, replacement of worn-out parts and monitoring the stacks internal systems are vital in ensuring the system lasts a long time. These costs can add up over time, but the good news is that they're usually lower than the costs of maintaining traditional fossil fuel-based systems (because fuel cells have fewer moving parts). Maintaining your fuel cell stack will cost money, but it's also esssential to ensuring a long-lifespan of your system. 


3. Efficiency rate

Fuel efficiency is everything when you're trying to save money. While you'll need to consider the initial price of your fuel cell, the long-term savings associated with fuel cell stacks can be considerable. Fuel cells have an astonishingly high efficiency rate compared to fossil fuel-based systems. While the average fossil fuel engine converts only 26% of its fuel's potential energy into power, hydrogen fuel cell stacks can achieve efficiencies of up to 61% or higher. The H-1000 XP Fuel Cell Stack, for example, has exceeded efficiencies of 59% in real-world conditions. These increased efficiencies mean less fuel is consumed to generate the same amount of power – lowering costs in the long run.


4. Hydrogen Availability

Easy access to hydrogen is more common in some regions than others. California, for instance, has an incredible amount of infrastructure, making hydrogen available for a relatively low price. This isn't the case in other areas and parts of the world – with hydrogen being difficult and expensive to obtain. You'll need to consider where you can get your hands on hydrogen and how much this will cost before understanding the correct price of owning a fuel cell stack. 


5. Operating Conditions

The operating environment can drastically affect the price of a fuel cell stack. Very high temperatures or lots of humidity can shorten the fuel cell's lifespan by causing the inner components to wear out quickly. Operate your fuel cell stack within the rated range for temperature and humidity to avoid this problem.


6. Resale Value

If you're looking to get a sense of the total cost of owning a fuel cell stack, factor in the potential resale price to get a better idea. Fuel cells have longer lifespans than traditional fossil fuel engines, which can significantly affect their resale value. Subtracting this from your initial fuel cell purchase price will come in handy with calculating the total cost of your fuel cell over the entire lifecycle.



While fuel cell stack prices may seem high at first, once you consider the system's cost over a complete lifespan, prices begin to seem more reasonable. Lower maintenance costs, high resale value, and increased efficiency mean your fuel cell stack will start to pay for itself much faster than a comparable fossil fuel generator. And if kept in the correct operating conditions and it's used in a location where hydrogen is plentiful and inexpensive – the actual price of your fuel cell stack can be much lower than comparable energy generation systems.  

Interested in learning more about fuel cell stacks? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Fuel Cells in 2023.

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