Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ballard's Backup Believers

The US DoD has joined Dantherm, Plug Power, and me as unconditional supporters of Ballard's 1020 ACS air-cooled stack. It has provided the joint development partnership team of Ballard and Plug an additional $3.5M to continue development of outdoor backup power system, primarily aimed at cell towers.

The incredibly simple air-cooled stack is the culmination of 4 generations and almost eight years of progress by Ballard - the 1020's entire balance of plant consists of a fan. Whereas Plug's historical installations have been reliable, they have all been based on Plug's own 5 kW stack, very often overkill coompared with ReliOn's 1 kW and current offerings from IdaTech and California upstart Altergy.

Hopefully the Plug-Ballard partnership will follow the lead of Dantherm Power in Denmark who yesterday issued a large order for Maxwell ultracaps to provide the immediate response for critical backup that fuel cells lack. The marriage of the Ballard 1020 and Maxwell ultracaps is certainly a match made in heaven. Whereas Plug hopes to have the new product in the field sometime in 2008, Dantherm has already been placing systems in Europe employing the Ballard stacks from its initial 100-unit order placed with Ballard last spring.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fuel Cells in the Mainstream

For those of you who missed it, a couple weeks ago there were actually two (2) (II) articles on fuel cells on the front page of the Boston Globe business section . But it was sort of a good news/strange news situation.

Good news: both were positive announcements, not bankruptcies.

The strange news: One was an announcement that Medis Technologies, a NASDAQ-listed joint Israeli-US venture, is ready to bring their portable multi-device charger fuel cell to market in the US. Problem is, the device is self-contained and disposable, therefore is not a fuel cell by definition. I (among others) have had some heated exchanges with Medis reps, but whatever.

Strange #2: For those of you buying a Honda FCX Concept fuel cell vehicle during the next year, the US is offering a whopping $12,000 tax credit. Problem here is, there's still only one in use in the US, leased by a California family, and an outright purchase price would be around $700,000 - $800,000. On the other hand, I have driven the Honda, and it's spectacular. I just wish I could use the tax credit.

Today's news: MA-based Protonex has come up with another business coup, non-military this time, signing a truck SOFC APU joint development deal with global diesel gen-set maker Cummins (MN, IN). Cummins had been working SOFCo-EFS of Ohio in the DoE SECA program for years, but SOFCo was purchase last year by Rolls Royce Fuel Cells.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fuel Cell Intel Begins

I will be creating a regular flow of real-time analysis and commentary on the global fuel cell industry. The industry as a whole is in the midst of a great sea change at present, trying to segue from a R&D engineering based field built around proof-of-concept trials and demonstrations (fuel-cell chevies drive 300 miles (thats 500 kms.) on one tank of hydrogen!!!), to actual commercial, cost-justified, installations.

Next week's Grove X symposium in London and October's 31st annual Fuel Cell Seminar in San Antonio will both for the first time feature a focus on commercial products. When the smoke finally clears (can we do something about all those noisy, unreliable, polluting diesel generators please?), we hope to see a viable industry arise from the ashes of previous false starts, just like the Phoenix and Hexis.

I will keep tabs on high profile public FC companies like FuelCell Energy, Plug Power, Ballard, Voller, CFCL, big entities with FC aspirations like Rolls Royce, Siemens, Toshiba, Air Liquide, and Wartsila, and below-the-radar upstarts llike Altergy, Bloom Energy, and CellTech.

And I'll expect feedback and hopefully news from India and China where the market and expertise are great but the news is small.

Jim Horwitz
Cambridge, MA, USA