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Guidelines for Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA) of fuel cell and hydrogen systems

The overall goal of this topic is to establish a methodological framework stating requirements and providing guidance on how to conduct an LCSA of FCH technologies and applications providing a framework for a fair comparison against competing technical solutions. To this end, the proposal should address the following activities:

  • Identification of development needs concerning the FC-HyGuide guidance documents based on experience made with applying these guidance documents in projects funded through the FCH JU or the FCH 2 JU [93], such as projects ene.field and HyTechCycling, and taking into account relevant examples of LCAs (potentially also including economic and social dimensions) that did not follow these guidelines;
  • Updating those guidance documents according to these development needs and following ISO standards 14040 and 14044 including their amendments and the ILCD handbook; thereby also new technologies and new fields of application and the potential comparison of these systems with competing technical solutions should be taken into account; this includes prospective methods to allow a fair comparison between rather mature technologies and those for which progress in their development is fast;
  • Extending the assessment framework to include social and economic indicators, including the criticality of raw materials. Recommendations regarding the environmental, economic and social impact assessment methods to be used should draw on current best practice and recommendations from the JRC;
  • Collecting robust and up-to-date environmental, social and economic life cycle inventory data on selected FCH systems and a set of prioritised competing technical solutions. The data should be made publicly available, for example through the EU platform on life cycle assessment hosted by the JRC [94]. A third-party review of the data should be conducted;
  • Demonstrating the practicability and implications of the developed guidelines in at least one test application case for FCs and one for H2 production systems. A third-party review of the guidelines should be conducted.

The project should contribute towards the activities of Mission Innovation - Hydrogen Innovation Challenge. Cooperation with entities from Hydrogen Innovation Challenge member countries, which are neither EU Member States nor Horizon 2020 Associated countries, is encouraged (see chapter 3.3 for the list of countries eligible for funding, and point G. International Cooperation).

The FCH 2 JU considers that proposals requesting a contribution of EUR 2 million would allow the specific challenges to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Expected duration: 3.5 years (including the development, application and internal/external verification of methodology and data).



The ambition of the FCH 2 JU is to develop clean, efficient and affordable solutions that fully demonstrate the potential of hydrogen as an energy carrier and of fuel cells as energy convertor. The provision of clean, efficient and affordable solutions calls for a holistic assessment of the systems from a sustainable development point of view. A methodological framework is therefore needed that takes a comprehensive set of aspects into account in a standardised way.

Besides, the methodological framework needs to go beyond the outcomes provided by the FC-HyGuide guidance documents [91] already established by the FCH 2 JU projects “HyGuide” and “H2FC-LCA” in 2011 regarding the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of fuel cell and hydrogen (FCH) systems. For instance, the guidelines provided in these documents need to be checked for relevance and appropriateness regarding scope. To demonstrate environmental, economic and social trade-offs of alternative FCH systems, valid and fair comparisons with competing products should be conducted following a consistent, harmonised methodological approach. To facilitate such comparisons, high-quality information on the materials, energy and other resources needed for the manufacturing, operation and end-of-life of these systems need to be available as well.

When dealing with these challenges, contributions not only from previous projects such as FC-HyGuide but also from international platforms such as the International Energy Agency Hydrogen Task 36 [92] should be considered in order to facilitate the future standardisation of the methodological framework by providing robust and comprehensive guidelines for the Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment (LCSA) of FCH systems.



The project should establish guidance regarding life cycle sustainability assessment of FCH systems from an environmental, economic and social perspective. Therefore the expected impacts should include:

  • Providing a robust framework for a transparent, harmonised and up-to-date LCSA of FCH systems as well as for a fair comparison between competing technical solutions. This framework also allows assessing consistently the extent to which production costs of FCH systems are expected to be reduced;
  • Proposing a material criticality indicator, to be assessed based on life cycle inventory data;
  • Facilitating the sustainability benchmarking of FCH systems against competing technical solutions by publicly providing high-quality data, including data on specific materials (e.g. ceramics in solid-oxide cells, carbon fibres) and their costs, data on processes (e.g. auxiliary materials and energy demand), recycling scenarios, economic performance and social aspects of the FCH systems and their alternatives. This includes prospective methods as regards cost and technical performance developments;
  • Supporting the International “Mission Innovation” initiative as regards the development of clean(er) energy;
  • Facilitating the spread of the knowledge e.g. integrating the data and guidance documents from the project into one or two already existing platforms (e.g. a dedicated webpage on LCA hosted by the FCH 2 JU, yet to be established).

The conditions related to this topic are provided in the chapter 3.3 of the FCH2 JU 2020 Annual Work Plan and in the General Annexes to the Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2018– 2020 which apply mutatis mutandis.