Fuel Cell Technology

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Fuel Cell Technology

Several industries currently adopting fuel cell technology are the forklift, ships, stationary power, portable power and train industries. The penetration of fuel cell technology into commercially available products varies significantly by industry, but represents a growing opportunity across the board.

FORKLIFT INDUSTRY

  • Forklifts or material handling vehicles (MHVs) are one of the most significant markets for fuel cell technology in terms of total units deployed to date, with North America representing almost all of the current global demand.
  • Specifically, companies including Plug Power, Hyster-Yale and Toyota are currently selling or testing various MVHs that are powered with fuel cells, including forklifts, tow trains, electric forklift trucks and other warehouse equipment.
  • Notably, fuel cell technology in the forklift industry is essentially being used as a replacement fuel source for this standard equipment, which has become essential for many warehouses, distribution facilities, manufacturing campuses and other logistics operations.
  • For example, Plug Power recently sold multinational corporation Carrefour 217 fuel cell-powered MHVs for use in the company's distribution centers.
  • Additionally, BMW Group is using 70 fuel cell-powered tow trains in their manufacturing facility in Leipzig to produce vehicles, while Daimler is also using fuel cell-powered MHVs in their Alabama manufacturing facility.

SHIPS & BOATS

  • Fuel cell technology is increasingly penetrating the ships and boats industry, despite competition from hydrogen and internal combustion engines, in response to concerns about the environment as well as the need to comply with the Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA) in North America, the Caribbean and the North and Baltic Seas.
  • However, fuel cells continue to face hurdles as an alternative power source for ships and boats, given challenges related to cost, the availability of sufficiently large units and the limitations of existing fueling infrastructure.
  • With that said, a number of countries are developing and testing fuel cell-powered ships and boats with the goal of achieving commercially-viable products in the next five to ten years.
  • Notably, in Germany, the Government NIP initiative has funded a ferry (Pa-X-ell 1), a seagoing vessel (SchIBZ 1) and a tug boat (Elekra), with the goal of the commercializing such fuel cell-powered products by 2025.
  • Additionally, Nobiskrug and H2-Industries are working on the first fully electric superyacht, which is intended to demonstrate the integration of fuel cell technology into the every-day operation of ships and boats, including that of larger and heavier ships for long journeys.
  • Meanwhile, in Norway, the government is focusing on using fuel cells for short shipping vehicles, such as ferries, in order to achieve the country's target of a 40% reduction in greenhouse emissions nationally by 2030.

STATIONARY POWER

  • PAFC, MCFC and SOFC are currently the dominant producers of larger-scale fuel cell-powered stationary power products, while SOFC and PEM are the leaders in producing smaller units.
  • These fuel cell-powered stationary power products have a broad range of applications, and supplant existing stationary power options that may be less environmentally friendly and/or have other drawbacks.
  • Notably, Japan is the leader in both the development and deployment of smaller fuel cell-powered stationary units, largely driven by the Ene-farm program, which subsidizes the use of residential fuel cell systems.
  • For example, in the city of Yokohama, Japan, 13,000 such units were in place as of March of 2018, while the total deployed in Japanese homes was closer to 300,000 as of the end of 2018.
  • Meanwhile, Korea and the US are the leaders in the deployment of the larger-scale fuel cell-powered installations.
  • For example, approximately 300 MW of fuel cells, typically of multi-MW size, were in operation across Korea as of the beginning of 2018, while the US continues to compete for the most stationary fuel cell deployment globally, due in part to the Federal Investment Tax Credit for fuel cell systems.
  • These deployments of larger-scale units have helped facilitate manufacturing and the general deployment of more sustainable energy across Korea and the US, among other countries.

PORTABLE & MILITARY POWER

  • Although the industry of portable and military power has seen significant setbacks for many companies who've attempted to integrate fuel cell technology into their products, fuel cell-powered products have developed in niches such as electronic equipment, battery recharging or home emergency power, where better performance is highly prized.
  • Notably, fuel cell-powered products in portable and military power allow for longer unattended operations in general, and are particularly competitive in remote applications such as meteorological or water flow modeling, SCADA delivery and temporary road construction.
  • Overall, the market for fuel cell-powered products in portable and military projects relies on the ability of these innovations to be a better alternative to batteries, which can often substitute fuel cell-powered power products given the continued development of battery technology and battery charging accessibility.
  • One example of a success story in this industry is SFC Energy, which has sold over 40,000 of its fuel cell-powered DMFC units worldwide to customers including international defense organizations and the US military.
  • In particular, the US military has used these fuel cell-powered products at military test ranges and training ranges across the country.
  • Meanwhile, Thunder Tiger has developed a fuel cell-powered helicopter (HXC2 Jupiter), which uses a 6 kW fuel cell module, and reportedly has three times more endurance than its traditional electric helicopter peers.

TRAINS

  • A relatively new application for fuel cell technology is that of the rail and train industry, which saw the introduction of the world’s first fuel cell-powered passenger train became operational in 2018.
  • Notably, the use of fuel cell technology as a replacement for diesel power significantly improves noise levels and the overall riding experience for passengers, and offers more efficient and environmentally friendly operations.
  • Additionally, fuel cell technology offers a better acceleration, deceleration and train propulsion performance overall, as well as significant potential cost savings during train maintenance.
  • Moreover, compared with traditional train electrification methods, fuel cell-powered trains do not require the costly and vulnerable overhead catenary or third rail systems, but still provide the same performance benefits.
  • For example, the Alstom train which entered revenue service last year can travel up to 140 km/h with a range of 1000 km, which is sufficient for several daily services on most currently diesel lines.
  • Meanwhile, many other fuel cell-powered trains are under development, with Siemens, Ballard and the German government partnering on the Mireo train, the UK currently working to convert existing train units to a hybrid fuel cell configuration, and Toronto moving forwarding with a design project to replace diesel locomotives with fuel cell-powered units.
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