Hydrogen fuel cells have been hailed by some as the solution to our country's dependency on foreign oil, particularly when it comes to fueling automobiles. But a new study by Phoenix-based research firm Energy Business Reports predicts that electric power generation and consumer electronics — not automobiles — will lead the way in using fuel cell technology in the future.

The firm's recently published “Fuel Cell Technology and Market Potential” report states that the global fuel cell market is expected to reach $2.5 billion by 2009, and electric power generation is expected to represent more than half of all demand in 2008. It also predicts that the portable electronics market will report the strongest advances over the next decade.

With the increasing power consumption requirements of electronic devices, the report notes that lithium ion and lithium-polymer batteries “have almost reached their functional limits.” With approximately a dozen companies worldwide active in the field of miniaturized fuel cell systems, what the report refers to as “micro fuel cells” are expected to hit the consumer electronic market for portable devices such as laptops and PCs well before automobile fuel cell technology.

“The transportation sector, where fuel cells have earned the broadest groundswell of acceptance, will require a much longer time to reach full commercialization potential,” the report states, blaming challenges such as achieving price parity with the internal combustion engine and establishing a hydrogen-fueling infrastructure.

According to Energy Business Reports, stationary applications for fuel cell technology, such as institutional electrical generators, will follow the commercialization of portable electronic applications, but will also precede commercialization of automobile fuel cell technology. “Aerospace and motor vehicle applications may lag somewhat in the near term, but are projected to grow rapidly between 2008 and 2013,” the report says.