Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hybrid Fuel Cell?

Since my presentation at the NHA conference is going to be on fuel cell hybrid configurations, mainly fuel cells with batteries and ultracaps, I've been particularly on the lookout for the key word hybrid along with 'fuel cells' and 'hydrogen' in my google alerts and searches. So a company I've been hit with a lot lately is 'Hydrogen Hybrid Fuel Cell Corp.' who is putting out more press releases than you can shake a platinum ingot at. It turns out the product of this public company is no more a fuel cell than the 'Medis Fuel Cell' battery charger (see this year's CES press releases) which is a stand alone disposable power pack (using fuel cell technology). Most important, the Hybrid Hydrogen product appears to be just another of many small electrolyzers that runs off a truck's battery, makes hydrogen and uses it to goose up the diesel mixture, given perhaps slightly better milage. But, after I did a minmal amount of due diligence on the company, a ran across its latest 10-k filing which the SEC requires and essentially lists all the disclaimers on said company. I don't know why these companies have to go out of their way to give fuel cells a bad name as the industry has enough of an inferiority complex to begin with.

An unconscionable article on CNNMoney simply quoted a HyHy press release treating it as if it were a huge reputable fuel cell developer. A couple quotes from the 10-k:
"The financial conditions evidenced by the accompanying financial statements raise substantial doubt as to our ability to continue as a going concern.";
"As of September 30, 2008, we did not have any employees. We are dependent upon our sole officer and a director for our future business development" ; and
"For the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, the company spent $983 in product development ".

And its not even a fuel cell company, RIP Voller Power.

The embarrassing CNN story:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lilliputian Breaks Silence

But only governor Deval hears - says company will hire 100 additional employees and roll out product in late 2009. CEO Ken Lazurus rumored to have said company will break with tradition and will not freeze vocal chords of new hires! He would not say whether Silicon Valley/Mumbai/Chattanooga BloomEnergy, fellow SOFC mute, will follow suite.

FCI will continue to follow the hand signals.

source: bizjournals

Thursday, November 20, 2008

US Starts Massive Residential Cogen Demonstration Program

The US DOE, joining the ranks of Europe and Japan, has finally 'got with the program' and teamed up with major gas and power utility National Grid and New York's own Plug Power with a proposed installation of one (1) (I) GenSys system at a site to be determined.

'We're late to catch the demontration program fever, so why not go all out' said a DOE spokeman. With the new national regime set to take power January 20th and the economy officially dead in the water (but not literally, not even off the coast of Somalia), now is the time to proceed full ahead with this win-win proposition.

I didn't catch a DOE announcement, but Albany BizJournals is on top of the story:

Plug has been part of the multi-continent two-year program to develop a high-temp PEM system headed by huge German boiler maker Vaillant, supported by both the DOE and EU and including London's world leading university fuel cell goup at Imperial College and a strong Bulgarian team.

I spent a lot of time at the Fuel Cell Seminar in Phoenix three weeks ago with Adam Hawkes of Imperial, the point man for thermal transfer modeling in residential cogen systems. When I noted that the two program was ending still without a successful HT PEM installation by Plug/Vaillant (the low temp installations petered out about 2 1/2 years ago), he said they had gotten a 3-month extension, and everyone's hoping for the best.

I've read subtle and not-so-subtle signals from Japan's NEDO and the US DOE that low temp (60-70° C) required hydrogen too pure for low cost reformers to produce, and too much extra balance-of-plant for water mangement and membrane humidification to have even a dim hope of hitting a viable price point ($5K - $10K at most, $4K preferred).

I have to hustle off to the GreenBuild International now to see if Gary Simon can convince Desmond Tutu to try out one the Acumentrics - MTS AHEAD SOFC 2.5 kW systems in his house. The hot running (750° C) system has a much higher power/heat output ration, and the high quality heat can be used to run an A/C condenser in warmer climates like that of South Africa. Where, to come full circle, Plug has about 100 successful critical back-up 5 kW GenCore systems installed and running.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Not a 'Quantum of Solace" for Fuel Cells!

I just picked up some chatter about Fuel Cells on the recently opened 'Quantum of Solace' James Bond flick. I haven't seen the movie, but after check a number of reviews and comments, this blogger's descritption of the FC scene appears to nail it: "There was one area which, if allowed to go unchecked, could lead back to gadgetry and unbelievable situations - that is that the hotel in the desert had hydrogen piped through all it’s walls. A fuel cell installation would use wires and have the fuel cells in one area of the building. As soon as this was mentioned I thought ‘that’s blowing up’ - and then one chap said ’sounds a bit unstable’. Yep. Definitely." It seems that yes, the building does go up in flames. I posted the following on one website:

I'm a fuel-cell-literate industry analyst, and you've nailed this pretty well Murk. Firstly, the last thing the oft-maligned fuel cell industry needs is perverted bad publicity like this. Not only do current FC CHP (combined heat and power) commercial and residential installations fit your description, i.e. one fuel cell producing power for the building which is of course transmitted by wires, but hydrogen is just about the least explosive and certainly the most volatile of combustible gases.

Natural gas lines have been installed in buildings for 150 years with only the occasional 'incident' as our local gas company calls them, and it is far more dangerous than hydrogen as is gasoline and its heavier-than-air vapor. Hydrogen, if it it does leak, rises and dissipates quickly and therefore might burn on its way out, but it would be almost impossible to create an explosion.

This 'Quantum' scene plays into two popular misconceptions: 1. The Hindenburg was the result of its hydrogen exploding - The blimp was coated with a form of rocket fuel to help contain the volatile gas, and that caught fire, burned and crashed while the hydrogen, burning or not, quickly rose into the atmosphere, and 2. Hydrogen energy from combustion or fuel cells (which involve no burning) has nothing to do with the hydrogen bomb or the sun's energy, the energy from both of which is produced by fusion under extreme heat and pressure. Not only have there been no major safety incidents concerning the 10's of thousands of fuel cell installations around the world (from toys to the coming new Freedom Tower being built at Ground Zero), but there have been no major safety problems with our liquid hydrogen fuelled space shuttle rockets since the early seventies.

Friday, October 31, 2008

32nd Annual Fuel Cell Seminar: Not paradise, but the industry's doing just fine, thanks.

Just got back from Phoenix. Saw a few cacti at the airport, one downtown, a lot of pavement and a new light rail installation which will have to go a long way to catch up with all the desert sprawl. But best of all, I saw a bunch of significant industry players, from engineers to business development VPs to CEOs, and everyone was reasonably pumped about the current state of affairs, particularly considering the crashing of the world economy. My rationale for the optimism is that not only are most stack developers and integrators still pre-commercial so that they depend a growing economy not now, but in the coming years, but also there have been significant government programs and policies committed to in the last few months, and those aren't going away. The US $3k/kW investment tax credit was part of the financial bail out bill, thank you very much, AIG, Countrywide, et al, and the EU's JTI (Joint Technology Initiative for Fuel Cells and Hydrogen) had its €245 million - €1B funding (6 years, 50-50 private shared) confirmed.

The essentially commercial state of the critical backup market and the initial 'Women in Fuel Cells' meeting created the most buzz, which was well-warranted. The luncheon drew a standing- room-only crowd, and the steering committee is comprised of an impressive well-balanced array of long-time industry devotees including engineers, scientists, industry analysts, government program directors, educators, business developers, marketing and communication directors, and industry analysts. You should definitely check out Nuvera's Danielle Andre's post Engineer Pete Colantonio's post after also give a good report on the seminar in general. I, too, was blown away by GM's Byron McCormick's presentation stressing the holistic approach toward fuel cell implementation. This was his self-proclaimed swan song as GM's fuel cell guru, and most of his talk seemed at odds with everything we think about GM and its product development since 1980 (see EV-1 and SUV's).

The narrowing of focus by Ballard (including its departure from direct involvement with passenger vehicle power plant development) and the willingness of other stack developers with end product name recognition to use a Ballard stack rather than one of their own creation represented the most significant step towards mass proliferation of commercial fuel cell based products. Most important examples: IdaTech employing the Ballard stack to secure the Indian ACME order for 10,000 or so systems over the next couple years, newly spawned Dantherm Power also using the Ballard stack for their telecom backup system with production and sales heading from the low hundreds to the thousands, and Plug Power continuing their Cellex & GH motive power products commitment to use Ballard stacks.

My high point was while sitting in front of a Ballard friend during Dantherm Power's Paw Mortensen's presentation of their backup and mCHP systems - which go through low temp PEM, high temp PEM and SOFC - I heard mumbling from behind me "hell never mention Ballard, he'll never mention Ballard" until Paw finally said, "We decided for our critical back-up product, we would use the Ballard 1020ACS stack, the best fuel cell in the world." I concur, Ballard concurs, so all were pleased in the end.

In regard to my post heading, Phoenix does not quite compare to 2006's Seminar Hawaii location, and this was certainly the lowest budget show in my short (4 year) experience - no luau, no mariachi dancers, small bags - but things are definitely looking up. My presentation on the global commercial status of mCHP (residential co-generation) played to a somewhat full house and I drew a small crowd of interested parties to the stage at the end. We'll see how that plays out - I drove the Clarity - it's unbelievable, even compared to the Equinox or Hyundai. Now, I own two Civics and a Honda lawnmower, but Honda's still not giving me a matched set of Home Energy Station to heat and power my home and Clarity to be fueled by the station. Much patience is required in this industry.

Friday, January 25, 2008

First 3 Weeks of Jan in Review - Fuel Cell Excitement

So I was planning on doing the first annual 'Fuel Cell Year in Review' sometime this month, but I've been busy plotting the global takeover by high temp PEM. More about that when I get rid of that darn cloak of silence. But while I've been procrastinating, things have been popping, and not just hydrogen dirigibles.

Hopefully I'll be able to go into more detail shortly on these events:

Biggest dollar deal: Abu Dhabi, the largest emerite in the UAE and home of the capital Abu Dhabi city, has funded a clean energy project to the tune of $15 billion which includes (you fuel cell fans note the difference between 'renewables' and 'clean energy') solar, wind, and hydrogen. The hydrogen production facility will have the capacity to produce 420 MW of electricity by reforming natural gas and sequestering 90% of the CO2. The plant is due to come on line in 2012, so hopefully there's plenty of time to squeeze some fuel cell action rather than giving it all up to hydrogen combustion turbines (are you listening waste hydrogen market seekers?)

Next big deal: Along the waste hydrogen lines, HydroGen has managed to talk electronics and consumer DMFC leader into signing as the Asian distributor for its yet-to-be-built 400 kW - 4 MW olde tyme technology PAFC plants. Samsung is clearly jealous of POSCO's deal with FuelCell Energy and is aware of Korea's $.28 feed-in tariff and pro-DG spark spread. I wish them luck.

Commercial News: German Smart SFC Fuel Cells is booking lots of wholesale orders for its small RV APU methanol fueled units, in the 300W range. It has a handle on the distribution of the methanol cartridges throughout the EU. Excellent for getting FCs in the public domain.

Ballard Stays on Top: Ballard signs up its second forklift power OEM (first was Excide for a tribrid) in Danish H2 Logic just in case Plug never gets it together with the Cellex and GH packages)

To Be Continued...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Year End News: Nippon in India, FCE Partial Victory

Nippon Oil has stepped off the shores of Honshu in its quest for mCHP markets, surfacing in beautiful, bustling, downtown Mumbai. It is currently in negotiations with Bharat Petroleum (BPCL) to bring its ENEOS (there is nothing like a fuel cell product with a real live trade name) residential cogeneration product to India. Could NOC be eyeing the not so shabby grid-challenged Indian residential market? We'll have to see how this plays out - LPG predominates in India, so it would be a bigger win for the Sanyo Technology NOC recently purchased (see FuelCellIntel Nov. posting) than for Ballard whose stack is used in the NOC kerosene-fueled product. Ebara Ballard is licensed to manufacture the Ballard stacks in Japan when they go commercial in 2009-2010, so Burnaby, BC won't be filled up with Ballard manufacturing facilities (that's an optimistic thought).

And while we're on optimistic thoughts, FuelCell Energy finally got some business approved by the Connecticut DPU. The optimism is needed because the orders approved are for only 16.2 MW of the 68 MW worth recommended last spring. I thought the 68 was a stretch, and FCE's manufacturing capacity has been pushed to the limit with outstanding California (Linde) and Korean (POSCO) orders in the pipeline, and its changeover to the advanced (20% more power output) Direct Fuel Cell product manufacturing. There will be another review of the CT projects in January, but I'd say the future still looks pretty rosy for FCE.

And in Europe, watch for Morphic eating little FC firms and while it extends its continental reach from north to south. It may have a rational plan and enough expertise and financing to bring fuel cells to the EU people, so I wish the enterprise luck.

I hope everyone has safe and happy holidays, particularly today - Boxing Day and the first day of Kwanzaa. May the next year be cleaner, greener, and more peaceful for all despite the wonders of endless political debate and lack of constructive policies and action.