Disruptive innovations: The case for hydrogen fuel cells and battery electric vehicles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of Edinburgh, The
  • School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh, Drummond St. EH8 9XP, UK
  • Grant Institute


The investment of private money in technological innovation is driven by the expectation of successful market penetration. This decision to invest is less risky when the innovation represents gradual improvement of existing technologies. The term disruptive innovation is used to describe the opposite case, i.e. innovations that are so different that their establishment in the market causes a disruption to the pre-existing system. The existing literature on disruptive innovations provides us with historic case studies of successful market capture by new technologies, but this in itself is insufficient to clarify the chances of success for nascent technologies. This paper sets out to bring greater clarity to the characteristics of disruptive innovation in a way that informs the debate on the viability of emerging technologies. Whilst existing definitions are based on technologies that were successful, this paper proposes a three part criteria to define candidate disruptive technologies: disruption should relate to manufacturers and/or infrastructure (the two often being inter-related), whilst innovation must provide more than the equivalence of service to the end-user. A review of seven historical case studies of successful disruptive technologies reveals seven characteristics of candidate disruptive technologies at the stage of niche market penetration. Examining battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles against these seven characteristics, shows that both candidate disruptive technologies share the same challenges as those identified in the successful historic case studies and also helps to identify potential pathways to greater market penetration in the future for these technologies.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15438-15451
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Hydrogen Energy
Issue number35
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2013


  • Battery electric vehicles, Disruptive technologies, Fuel cell vehicles, Niche markets