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.

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