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Long Distance Relationships: The Secret for Fuel Cell Success?

Author: James Horwitz | Web Link | PDF Link

The Global Fuel Cell Challenge:

The multiplicity of viable fuel cell applications, breadth of developed and developing technologies and widely varying regional market conditions have created global partnerships among entities with complementary attributes. Although it may seem that domestic liaisons among culturally similar players spawned from fertile academia centric industry clusters should provide the clearest route to success in this struggling industry, it is the intercontinental groupings which are showing the most potential and creating the most buzz. Vertically integrated multi-national partnerships create compelling products.

Global stationary markets in perspective:

• Critical Backup: While Dantherm Power continues pre-commercial demonstration installations with its domestic stack partners, it has chosen Ballard stacks as the basis for its entry into the critical backup market. Ballard Power was already enjoying success with Japanese manufacturer, Ebara. The globally most promising fuel cell stack project involves stack developer IdaTech employing a new technology Ballard stack to secure a large order from India-based system integrator ACME Tele Power Ltd. The other American stack developers in this now commercial market ReliOn and Altergy have found international partners as has Canadian Hydrogenics.

• Mid-size CHP: Connecticut-based FuelCell Energy and UTC Power have comparatively high profile mid-sized commercial and industrial CHP installations. Fuel Cell Energy has long held footholds in Japan and Germany, and now has guaranteed long-term profitable penetration into the Korean market via POSCO, Korea’s largest steel manufacturer. Additionally, UTC has secured a multi-unit order from Samsung in Korea, but suffering from domestic price pressure, is undergoing restructuring of its commercial fuel cell operations.

• Residential Cogeneration (mCHP): Plug Power has worked with German HVAC giant Vaillant for years. Long-time European mCHP developer BAXI Innotech has foregone its own stack for the Japanese field-proven Ballard stack. Acumentrics is confident of European success for its 1 – 3 kW mCHP system developed with Italian leading boiler maker MTS, but has no current plans to enter the US market. Acumentrics is only one of many US developers who have set their focus abroad for finding successful integration and commercialization partnerships.

• FC Development Clusters: Federal Governments, states, and even cities like Hamburg and Columbia, SC have invested significant time and money into developing fuel cell clusters. Although their programs continue, marked by anecdotal excitement and positive developments, a more compelling creative synergy seems to arise from counter-intuitive cross cultural liaisons.


Fuel cells represent disruptive technology: Fuel cells require novel maintenance, support, and refueling including operator instruction and a new supply infrastructure. It just seems that despite the inordinate number of entrepreneurial fuel cell developers in North America, many of them with products that offer the potential of a comparable value proposition with compelling environmental advantages, the industry struggles for visibility and wide-reaching support.

After an inconsistent history, fuel cells have finally achieved viability in the real world. But being neither sexy nor violent, there is significant cultural resistance to their implementation in the US. Partnerships among creative fuel cell entrepreneurs and visionary global system integrators can provide enough substance to provide the critical market push the industry so sorely requires. But in addition, the aura of hope ushered in by the new administration must be allowed to come to fruition in overall government policy.


About Mr. Horwitz

James Horwitz is the principal analyst at Fuel Cell Intelligence in the Boston, MA, area. Mr. Horwitz has extensive experience in the energy industry having served as a long-term technical consultant for National Grid, the UK utility now the largest natural gas supplier in the Northeast US. Over the past four years, he has published numerous articles in the global fuel cell industry focusing on commercialization, and completed consulting projects for some important FC industry players.

Location Tags: Energy Modernization / Climate Change Tech | Distributed Energy and Smart Grid
North America | Global | Massachusetts

Associated Tags: fuel cell, globalization, market, economics, partnership, innovation

Updated on 07/22/2009

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