Britain’s Carbon Trust said it is making a 1 million pound investment in a company that has developed a new fuel-cell technology that could give a boost to the fledgling electric-vehicle market.

The non-profit trust, whose mission is to accelerate the move to a low-carbon economy, said the new technology could mean that for the first time, hydrogen-powered fuel cells could be affordable enough to be used in mass market applications such as cars.“

ACAL Energy, the company receiving the investment, has developed a new way of reacting the oxygen in air with hydrogen through the use of a low-cost liquid catalyst. The ACAL approach achieves the same performance as standard methods, but it offers lower costs and reduced system complexity.

The Carbon Trust said analysis based on a US Department of Energy model has shown that the ACAL technology could cut system costs, once in mass production, by up to 40 pc while potentially increasing durability.

Hydrogen-powered fuel cells can power electric cars with zero local emissions. The Carbon Trust said the global fuel-cell industry could be worth more than 180 billion pounds by 2050.

“We believe ACAL’s transformational approach is one of the biggest breakthroughs in fuel cell technology since the 1980s,“ said Robert Trezona, research accelerator director at the Carbon Trust.

ACAL said it would initially offer products for use in stationary power applications, but that its aim is the automotive industry. “The Carbon Trust’s PEM Challenge program will enable us to accelerate development of our technology for use in cars”, said S.B. Cha, CEO of ACAL Energy.

PEM stands for polymer electrolyte membrane, which is a type of fuel cell being developed for transport applications.