Saturday, November 3, 2007

San Antonio Memories

I have been too busy celebrating my second visit to San Antonio this year without once seeing the Alamo. I do remember it though, particularly when I have to rent a car or see a racoon.

On the other hand, there were plenty of fuel cell representatives from around the world at the Henry B. Gonzalez convention center (or The Hank as only I know it - ask the locals about Henry's history the next time you're in town), and plenty of conspicuous absences as well. Plug and ReliOn, both with complimentary telecom backup products in international distribution, were among the missing. GE for the first time in recent memory was low profile as were all car manufacturers despite a raft of press releases from the various international car shows -a new land distance record from the Toyota FCV, Honda going commercial with FCX Concept vehicle about to get a name and be sold in 2008 for about $100,000, and GM putting 100 of their FCVs on the road, albeit on a trial basis. But fuel cell supply-siders were everywhere, clearly getting increasing real business from developers. On the car makers, someone did comment that when you're in the pre-commercial stage, you often want all the hype you can get, but when you're on the verge and think you've nailed the technology and marketing strategy, you discreetly quiet down to maintain the competitive edge.

For me the week in Alamo country started slow - plenary sessions were good and exhibit hall plenty busy, but it was too hot outside, too cold inside (not good with energy independence being the theme for the 31st annual FC Seminar), and the Tuesday evening reception in the exhibit hall featured a cash bar with a couple canned beers for sale and no food to be had of any type or cost - indicative of a lack of sponsorship. Maybe I'll pony up next year. But although there no grand announcements or demonstrations like at the otherwise much quieter Grove in September or the April Hanover Fair, and the technology sessions, exhibits and posters were fairly well mixed up with the product and commercially oriented ones, there was an ever present synergy of purpose and agreement that patience will breed success at last for the industry.

Highlights for me: Dr. Andreas Mai from Hexis giving an update on their reborn SOFC, confirming that he actually one of the three new hires by the Swiss company, and countryman Olivier Bucheli representing Swiss SOFCpower, as HTceramix with its new mix of Italian expertise is known. In attendance were no less than three representatives from low-profile Racine thermal management expert Modine Manufacturing. Modine is now working with Ceres Power and even lower-profile Bloom Energy as well as Ballard, and lent some expertise to my presentation on the importance of thermal management to the optimization and commercialization of fuel cells. Never shy Arno Evers continues his creative promotion of the industry, despite giving up control of the Hanover H2+FC pavilion, with his sponsorship of the exciting student competition and his team of fuel cell jugglers accompanying him from Germany. And from the supply side came a concerted push from Vairex's Ski Milburn for ethanol-powered portable fuel cells for laptops, as small containers of hydrated ethanol are already available for sale on most commercial airliners. The concluding Friday morning CEO round table was excellent, with both contrasts and similarities showing up in unexpected places in the diverse group. Both Mark Fleiner of international powerhouse Rolls Royce Fuel Cells and Jeff Bently, leader of eight-engineer strong CellTech are confident they'll have successful commercial products within two or three years, and aren't interested in any outside investment. Topsoe's Helge Holm-Larsen stressed patience, IdaTech's Harol Koyama perseverance, and Sam Logan offered the voice of hands on experience like no one else (save Dr. Mike) can.

I'd like to thank Dr. Rolf Rosenberg of the VTT Research Centre for pointing out after my presentation that Finland is surrounded by Sweden and Russia, and it's Norway that has all those Ballard fuel cell powered fjords. And we should all wish Dr. Ruairi (you pronounce it, or ask Frodo for help) MacIver the best of luck and largest of grants for taking the clean energy battle to his Hebridean Celtic island outpost - they need more than music to survive.

Next Year in Phoenix (hopefully an iconic rather than ironic location for the 32nd...)!


Cyni said...

As conclusion, SOFC is THE FC technology, but SECA postpones their target to 2015 or beyond, in order to research and not deliver products. Will see whether Europe with the JTI is able to do better...

Fuel Cell Intel said...

SECA is right up there with FC development's worst nightmare. Fuel Cell Technology sank, Acumentrics is succeeding despite SECA as is Siemens (see Japan post and FCT's John Stannard's post mortem). GE is sitting on their 2030 SOFC clean coal project. Any number of the EU mCHP players, JTI participants, US entrepreneurial developers or the couple of Japanese partnerships will bring certainly bring SOFC to the real world before SECA gets to 'Phase II'. Just my opinion.

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