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Alternative energy technologies as a cultural endeavor: a case study of hydrogen and fuel cell development in Germany

Ante Galich1 and Lutz Marz2*

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education, University of Luxembourg, Route de Diekirch (B.P. 2), Walferdange L-7201, Luxembourg

2 Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung gGmbH, Abteilung „Kulturelle Quellen von Neuheit", Reichpietschufer 50, Berlin D-10785, Germany

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Energy, Sustainability and Society 2012, 2:2  doi:10.1186/2192-0567-2-2

Published: 13 February 2012



The wider background to this article is the shift in the energy paradigm from fossil energy sources to renewable sources which should occur in the twenty-first century. This transformation requires the development of alternative energy technologies that enable the deployment of renewable energy sources in transportation, heating, and electricity. Among others, hydrogen and fuel cell technologies have the potential to fulfill this requirement and to contribute to a sustainable and emission-free transport and energy system. However, whether they will ever reach broad societal acceptance will not only depend on technical issues alone. The aim of our study is to reveal the importance of nontechnical issues. Therefore, the article at hand presents a case study of hydrogen and fuel cells in Germany and aims at highlighting the cultural context that affects their development.


Our results were obtained from a rich pool of data generated in various research projects through more than 30 in-depth interviews, direct observations, and document analyses.


We found that individual and collective actors developed five specific supportive practices which they deploy in five diverse arenas of meaning in order to attach certain values to hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.


Based on the results, we drew more general conclusions and deducted an overall model for the analysis of culture in technological innovations that is outlined at the end of the article. It constitutes our contribution to the interdisciplinary collaboration required for tackling the shift in this energy paradigm.

shift in the energy paradigm; hydrogen and fuel cells; culture