Sept. 5, 2002 — To a world accustomed to plentiful fossil fuels and hydroelectric power at affordable cost, the fuel cell has historically generated little commercial interest and less consumer enthusiasm.
The past 40 years witnessed the evolution of the fuel cell from a technological oddity with great theoretical promise to a technological achievement with a record of occasional successes and now, in 2002, considerable commercial promise and a few commercial examples.
Although it is not imminent, the end of the age of fossil-fueled power plants can be foretold, due both to dwindling oil reserves and growing environmental concerns over pollution and environmental contamination. Nuclear power production growth has been and will be sharply limited by environmental opponents. There is mounting empirical evidence that in large-scale applications, the fuel cell has something quite exciting to offer, and it is now more than just promise.
According to a soon-to-be-released study from Business Communications Company, Inc. (www.bccresearch.com) RE-122 Fuel Cells for Large Scale Applications, the North American fuel cell market for large scale applications is currently valued at about $251 million. The market is expected to increase over the next five years at an AAGR (average annual growth rate) of 20.7% reaching $642 million by 2007.
This is a much more conservative estimate than those projected by many for the fuel cell market, but those market projections include a variety of entities.
The fuel cell business is ripe for a number of changes beyond mere technological changes. With more than 1,000 companies involved with fuel cells in some fashion worldwide, changes are inevitable. Joint ventures and cross-ventures are the norm.
Coming up will be companies closing shop, more buying, selling, and licensing of technology, and inevitable acquisitions and mergers. A little of that industry consolidation has started to take place, but lots more is yet to come
Phosphoric acid fuel cells are, at present, the best selling fuel cell chemistry. This is in large part due to the fact that the PC25 unit is commercially available from UTC and reasonably affordable. The phosphoric acid, molten carbonate, and alkaline fuel cells have been known for years and allowed the skeptics to scoff at “fool cells.” These technologies have been tweaked and have advanced to a second-generation. Each seems to have found a niche.
Now the proton exchange (PEM) fuel cells and solid oxide fuel cells are presenting themselves as the third generation of the technology and those with the most promise. Barely emerging from R&D and still in infancy, these technologies seem bound to fulfill the destiny of fuel cells as “the” alternative power source.
Using cylinder hydrogen at a “filling station” or natural gas from a pipeline as feed can largely remove the concerns over “infrastructure.” Still crawling into infancy are the metal-air power cells that have a great potential to replace batteries in many applications, but perhaps not just yet.
Fuel cells replace batteries in some applications, and generators and internal combustion engines in others. The expected winning large-scale application for fuel cells in the next five years is for distributed/backup power uses with 47% of the market. By 2007, transportation applications will garner 44% of fuel cells’ value for large-scale applications.
Federal agencies such as NASA and the military and Coast Guard will take much smaller shares of the market.
Source: BUSINESS COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY, INC.