A British company claims that a breakthrough it has made could make the introduction of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles a reality.

Cost has been a barrier to the full-scale introduction of fuel, but ACAL Energy claims to have devised a cell which would cost no more than a four-cylinder petrol or diesel engine.

Its breakthrough is in the way the fuel stack - the component which converts hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, with water as the only by-product - is constructed. This removes 80% of the platinum in current fuel stacks, which, says ACAL, would equate to a 30% reduction in costs.

The platinum has been replaced with a liquid catalyst - referred to by ACAL as a ‘secret sauce’ - which has been patented under the name FlowCath. Apart from reducing costs, the process is said to improve the durability of fuel cells.

A prototype cell has been bench-tested for 9,000 continuous hours - the equivalent of 300,000 road miles - on a cycle designed to mimic typical car journeys.

ACAL has won financial backing from Honda to help develop the system, and CEO Greg McCray said the company is collaborating with “five-and-a-half” of the seven manufacturers who have signed up to start making fuel cell cars.

McCray said: “We are now at the commercialisation stage. We want to take it from the laboratory to the street, and will be signing up customers for development projects in the next six to 12 months.”

ACAL plans to licence the technology and allow the auto manufacturers to make it themselves. “We don’t have the expertise to put one in a car,” says McCray. “We can only do this in partnership with them. We will be selling the intellectual property, but they will have to come to us to buy the ‘secret sauce’.”