Fuel cells are devices which convert the fuel’s chemical energy into electricity via a chemical reaction in the presence of an oxidizing agent. They can be of different types, but they all consist of an anode, cathode, as well as an electrolyte. They use hydrogen or other hydrocarbon fuels which are available in abundance, along with an oxidant (usually oxygen), to carry out an electrochemical reaction. This makes them one of the fastest growing alternate backup power options. Additionally, they are eco-friendly as their by-product only comprises nitrous oxide. They generate lower noise levels as compared to other incumbent technologies due to lack of moving parts and an efficient combustion process.
There are various types of such cells, the major ones being PEMFC (Proton Exchange Membrane), SOFC (Solid Oxide), PAFC (Phosphoric Acid) and MCFC (Molten Carbonate). Portable applications include consumer products such as laptops and mobile phones, personal electronics, Accelerated Processing Units, portable products and consumer products such as laptops and mobile phones. Stationary applications include Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS), residential power and Combined Heat Power (CHP). Transportation applications include auxiliary power units and electric vehicles. Fuel cell vehicles, generally hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, have gained a lot of support and visibility in the past few years. With this in mind, fueling stations have seen a healthy growth in the past few years.
The global fuel cell market is an attractive one, owing to the following factors:
Governments of various countries have been pushing for their development and technological advancement due to their eco-friendly nature, which is expected to significantly drive the market.
The increasing need for reduced emissions and better fuel economy has resulted in development of fuel cell enabled commercial vehicles that utilize hydrogen fuel.
Various countries and participants are trying to successfully implement this technology at lower costs, which increases their market attractiveness.
However, their implementation and use also comes with a set of restraints. Most significant among them being cost, as even though technological advancements are being made in the field, they have still not been able to compete economically with traditional energy technologies, which includes gasoline internal combustion engines. Another issue with is that hydrogen storage and distribution is difficult, which provides hindrance to market growth. Vehicles based on this technology have their set of detractors, with the production, storage and cost of the technology being the most common point of argument. This is expected to hinder the future market.
North America dominates the market in terms of installed capacity and unit shipment owing to favorable regulatory scenario and technological advancement in this region. The U.S. Department of Energy has over 300 patents on fuel cell technology and is extensively involved in its research. Asia Pacific is the second largest market due to high demand from Japan and South Korea. The market in other countries such as China and India is also expected to increase due to an increase in the technological capabilities and government support. Europe is expected to witness fast growth in terms of their installed capacity primarily due to growing hydrogen fuel infrastructure in Germany, Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
Key manufacturers include:
Dominion Resources Inc.
Plug Power Inc.
SFC Energy AG
Panasonic, among others.
The major developments that have taken place in the market in the past few years include:
In May 2019, Nedstack, based in Netherlands, has tied up with OSD-IMT, another Dutch organization specializing in ship designing, to manufacture the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell powered tugboat. Through this, the focus is on reducing the environmental footprint of economic activity, along with testing of new technologies. The design involves a 65-ton bollard pull harbor tug, which will be completely electric-driven. Electric power for the propulsion motors will be generated onboard by hydrogen fuel cells. The design is expected to be implemented further in smaller and larger tugs as well.
In July 2019, Ballard Power Systems announced an agreement with Wrightbus, an OEM for buses headquartered in Northern Ireland, which detailed a purchase of 15 ‘FCveloCity®-HD’ 85-kilowatt fuel cell modules for powering buses in Aberdeen, Scotland. This development is under the “JIVE” (Joint Initiative For Hydrogen Vehicles) program. The program targets a deployment of 291 fuel cell buses in more than 20 cities in Europe.
In May 2019, SFC Energy AG, headquartered in Germany, received an order for tempered defense fuel cell products worth 1.4 Million Euros, from an Asian defense organization. The company’s JENNY 600S AND EMILY 3000 cells, along with the SFC Power Manager 3G are used to power off-grid border protection equipment, electrical equipment, as well as communication and radio systems, which may be located on high altitudes as well as at remote outposts.
In September 2019, Plug Power, which provides hydrogen engines and fueling solutions, reached an agreement with ENGIE, which provides energy transition services, to expand the use of renewable hydrogen and fuel cells. Plug Power will be working with ENGIE to identify potential markets and customers. The agreement will allow adoption of hydrogen as an efficient and clean energy source that enhances productivity.
In-depth report on global fuel cell market by Grand View Research:
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