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.

The Ethiopian-Caltech Fuel Cell Connection

Kudos are showing up from all over the world, particularly from the Ethiopian diaspora, due to an article appearing in Newsweek online and in print (page 82, 12/31 issue) about my second favorite Caltech professor (still first is my former advisor, math Prof. Gary Lorden still going strong and remaining as the technical consultant and chief advisor for CBS's 'Numb3rs') Sossina Haile.

Dr. Haile has remained a dedicated full-time professor while her former grad students are running with her innovative SAFC (solid acid fuel cell) technology with the solidly-funded SuperProtonics Corp. in Pasadena. She is a dogged and intense researcher who has risen from her refugee roots to the top of the FC research world. I've spent time with her husband (through an incredible coincidence), heard her boys, and been figuratively blown away by her technology with a one-on-one poster presentation she gave me in Palm Springs, and I can say the Newsweek article does not exaggerate a thing. Her FC technology is the only one with a working temperature between 200° C (PAFC) and Ceres' 500° cerium-based SOFC, and it could hit the thermal sweet spot for fuel cells. Business development VP Sami Mardini says SuperProtonics will be putting small stacks in the hands of integrators throughout 2008, looking for a 2009 - 2010 market introduction. This could be in line with the 'conventional' SOFC developers like CFCL, Acumentrics, Topsoe, and certainly Ceres who appear to be poised for commercialization, so Sossina's third child has a real chance to grow up strong and healthy like her human ones.

SuperProtonics board member, and former NJ senator, NY Knick, and top-fight presidential candidate Bill Bradley, has (of course) full confidence in the product and technology.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What is Intelligence?

Sorry for the short hiatus, but I got hung up last Tuesday with our president's press conference. Problem was, here I am talking from the 'Fuel Cell Intelligence' point of view, and he seemed to totally redefine the meaning of the word. 'Intelligence' particularly in regard to the latest foreign intelligence assessment regarding the state of Iran's nuclear program, immediately became 'not intelligence', or just plain 'wrong'. Although there might have been misunderestimating going on, his pronouncement did cause me to rethink the term, putting it in a new subjective light, perhaps freeing me from reliance on all facts in the reporting on 'intelligence'.

Let me comment on some minor fuel cell announcements the past week that fit into this category:

1. Medis received permission for its 'fuel cell' multi-battery charger to be carried on commercial airplanes. This is not so significant FC industry news, because the Medis disposable package is not a fuel cell by definition.

2. Italian (with intense Japanese backing) catalyst innovator Acta is riding on the success of its product's ability to reform hydrogen out of ammonia, reporting the smell is the only remaining problem. Admittedly, ammonia is a liquid and as such a much easier fuel to transport or store than hydrogen, but it is manufactured by combining some of the 79% of the atmosphere that is nitrogen with manufactured hydrogen. That is, one of the major uses for industrial hydrogen which the hydrogen energy industry has to compete is the production of ammonia, mainly used for fertilizer. Therefore it seems that in the long run, or even the short run, methanol, ethanol, or hydrogen stored and transported through novel methods now being perfected have much more of a future as fuels for fuel cells than ammonia. I may be wrong on this, but, if so, talk to me.

3. Finally, FC news maker Hydra first reported a Latin American distributor of gypsum wall board had been sign to sell its residential CHP fuel cell in that region. Although I did not call Frank Neukomm, the holding company CEO, again - he was very forthcoming last spring - this deal seems to be quite a reach for me. I don't think the distributor, whom I could not find through google or any industry listings, has trained with Dr. Mike Binder or Logan Energy in the not so easy installation of fuel cell CHP systems. And although Hydra then announced a second residential system sale to a customer in Florida, the excerpt from its 10-K disclosure statement on December 5 states that the company has had no (0) (zero) revenue thus far, and will have trouble surviving past the end of the calendar year. But I sure love those press releases!

Time to get back to the old intelligence - like FuelCell Energy's reported (its reports have always been 100% above board) sale of two 2.4 MW DFCs to POSCO in Korea, continuing to embarrassingly outpace its 'subsidy approved' potential 68 MW worth of business involving the State of Connecticut's Project 100, with most individual projects bogged down in bureaucracy.