2002 Fuel Cell Seminar

Fuel Cell Seminar
Nov 18-21, Palm Springs, CA

The Fuel Cell Seminar has been held every two years* since 1978. Until recently, it’s been essentially a scientific forum. The 2000 event (in Portland OR) saw a major change into a full blown trade show. That trend continued this time, with 50% larger attendance (3000) and many more than twice the number of exhibitors (125). The event is very international, with huge contingents from Europe and Asia. For the first time, simultaneous translation in Japanese was provided. (*From now on, they’re going annual–the next one will be in Miami, Nov ’03.)

The mood this time, however, was distinctly different. Recall that January 2000 started with a runaway boom in stock prices and excitement over fuel cells. By November, that surge was still strong, and the event had the feel of a celebration. In contrast, this year the mood was almost grim, or at least very subdued. Beyond the effects of the wider economic doldrums, the reality has set in that cost and performance of fuel cell technology just aren’t there yet. Fuel cells are still years from being ready for a meaningful ramp-up in commercial market penetration. Investment bankers and venture capitalists, who were very much a presence in 2000, were few and far between this time.

A great many of the exhibitors were suppliers to the industry, offering membranes, catalysts, pumps and valves, test equipment, etc. Thus the comment that people were there to sell to each other, not to sell fuel cells to real customers. (The only customers appear to be governments–see below.) It is possible to spin this positively–companies like 3-M and Agilent wouldn’t be bothered if they didn’t see a big opportunity down the road. The large attendance could be viewed in the same light. The saying goes that it’s a matter of when, not if [that fuel cells will be a practical reality on a large commercial scale].

Keynote Address
S. David Freeman was blunt (as usual) in his keynote address–fuel cells have not achieved financial viability; the fuel cell car is a huge publicity stunt–not yet a practical reality; and distributed generation (via fuel cells) doesn’t have the political appeal that renewable energy enjoys. He urged the industry to pay more attention to the question of fuels for fuel cells, and suggested that it’s in everyone’s interest to deploy hydrogen burning IC engines, to build up the hydrogen infrastructure independent of and in parallel with fuel cell development.

Four keynote lectures followed:
– DOE Fossil Energy Fuel Cell Program (Victor Der for George Rudins)
FE spends $250 million/year for stationary fuel cell RD&D, mostly on SECA and FC-Hybrids. SECA is the initiative whose goal is $400/kw planar solid oxide fuel cell. Contracts have been awarded to four industry teams to pursue various technical strategies.

– Stationary Perspective (Jerry Leitman, Fuel Cell Energy)
Stationary plants are commercially available today, and offer dramatic efficiency and emissions improvements over engines and combined cycle plants.

– Transportation Perspective (Andrew Schell, for Ferdinand Panik, DaimlerChrysler)
Fuel cells in transportation are a necessity to gain the “freedoms” (i.e. of choice, from emissions, from oil dependence, etc). Applications will ramp up over the next 7 years to become truly commercial. New fuel insfrastructures must be deployed. (In January, DOE replaced the PNGV with FreedomCAR, concentrating on hydrogen and fuel cells

– Portable Perspective (Laryy DuBois, SRI)
There is no Moore’s Law for batteries. The price paid per kw is high compared with large scale power, creating an opportunity for fuel cells. Drivers include longer runtime, fast recharge, unlimited recharge, etc. A dozen companies at least plan to be selling products sometime in the next 3 years. Concentration is on direct methanol or PEM, with at least one SOFC to run on butane. The competition isn’t standing still, with advances in batteries and ultracaps, as well as work on nano-heat engines and RF scavenging. (I have a pdf of this presentation-2MB)

– Fuel Perspective (Don Huberts, Shell Hydrogen)
Stationary, Transportation and Portable each have different requirements for refueling infrastructure, and no single answer will suffice. There needs to be a mix of technologies, primary energy sources, and delivery means.

Program Overviews
A series of presentations outlined programs and budgets deveoted to fuel cell developments funded by the European Commission, Germany, Japan, and the US (DOE). Strong long term commitments were evident, with expressed goals of meeting Kyoto requirements and reducing oil dependence through hydrogen and fuel cells. $100s of millions are budgeted. Notably, they all talk in terms of gradual progress up the adoption curve, with the bulk of activity over the next 6-10 years in demos and projects.

In addition to over 230 poster papers, parallel sessions included presentations on PEM R&D, SOFC, Commercialization and Demonstrations, Fuel Processing and DMFC/Portable. Many of the papers were highly technical and specialized, while others were little more than general overviews for companies and programs (some bordering on infommercials).

Reflecting on the general state of the industry, governments appear to be the main customers for fuel cell companies, along with the big carmakers who are doing demos, partnerships, and their own development programs (GM was curiously quiet at this event). Otherwise, it just seems to be a swarm of similar sounding programs, and it’s nearly impossible to see any real differentiation that would indicate a possible eventual winner.

This is especially true in PEM, and also to some extent in SOFC. Fuel Cell Energy, of course, is the only US molten carbonate company, and they are just introducing a new and improved series of models into their 12 MW order backlog. They are “commercial”, but price remains an issue, as well as perceived technical risk on the part of buyers (the US Navy does seem to be keen on them for shipboard use). Meanwhile, companies like Plug and Nuvera have quietly stopped talking about residential.

As the long slow march of this technology continues, maybe the traditional approaches are just too difficult. Almost everyone seems to be pursuing the same old stacks with bolts around the edge, and the same handful of reformer technologies. Meanwhile, a number of “stealth” developments are underway, out of the spotlight, by people who are thinking different. They may just come along with novel new approaches that break through the age-old dilemmas of cost, manufacturability, and performance. One is almost tempted to think that if something is being presented at conferences, it’s not cutting edge, and it’s not the answer. (And it’s a safe bet that companies that do make presentations are probably not telling us about their really good stuff.)

Here is an example of such a possible “end-run”: Microcell Corp had a booth showing a very different configuration for a fuel cell system. Very few details were given, but they did tell me their cost goal is less than $100/kw. The cells are long thin hollow tubes (less than 1 mm in diameter) whose wall consists of the anode, electrolyte, and cathode, and which can be made by extrusion. The cells can be arrayed in bundles in a tube and header configuration, and high power densities are predicted. The company is in the 2nd year of a 3 year ATP grant, with cofunding investment by Pepco.

Ceramic Fuel Cell Ltd, of Australia, presented its new all ceramic SOFC stack technology which looks very promising. Temperature cycling is the big issue for SOFC’s and their latest set of innovations have resulted in a simple rugged design.

References and Publications:

Abstracts of the 2002 Fuel Cell Seminar–the book is 2 ” thick; also on a CD, available for purchase ($55 and $30, respectively). Contact:
Catherine Porterfield

European Integrated Hydrogen Project
White paper: “European Transport Policy for 2010 : time to decide ”

New releases (at the seminar):
2002 Annual Progress Report, H2, FC and Infrastructure Technologies Programs, 400 page book, or CD. Also online at

The new 6th edition of the DOE Fuel Cell Handbook (Oct 2002) was handed out at the Seminar. This comprehensive textbook (450 pages) can be ordered on CD at

Overview of Portable Power
The German company Smart Fuel Cell is among the many contenders in portable power, and appear to be making good progress towards commercialization. They were listed among Scientific American’s 50 Business Leaders (Dec issue)

They cite this helpful overview of the market on their website:

[web tips]
— The NETL website has its fuel cell materials under the Strategic Center for Natural Gas. Look under “End-Use” to find fuel cells.

— The DOD has a website which details a major residential PEM demo program, as well as the Army’s Fuel Cell Test & Evaluation Center (FCTEC), operated by Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC) in Johnstown, PA

By coincidence, this article appeared right after the Seminar

More Rationalization Of Fuel-Cell Companies Expected
By Lynne Olver, Dow Jones Newswires — Nov 25, 2002

VANCOUVER — The fuel-cell industry is entering an “important phase” in which more corporate consolidation can be expected, according to Pierre Rivard, president and chief executive of Hydrogenics Corp. (HYGS). Rivard said the PC and telecom industries tend to have a few dominant players, and he expects a similar pattern in the fuel-cell business over the next three years.

“It’s typical that, post-consolidation, you might see two, three, perhaps four emerging, larger-sized companies and to me that’s very healthy,” Rivard told Dow Jones.

. . . . The article goes on to describe Plug Power’s acquisition of H Power, and Global Thermoelectric’s interest in finding a buyer or major partner for its SOFC business.,,BT_CO_20021125_005129-search,00.html?collection=autowire%2F30day&vql_string=olver%3Cin%3E%28article%2Dbody%29

N. Amer Power Quality Equipment Markets


“North American Markets for Power Quality:
The Top 50 Equipment Suppliers and Service Providers,”
Research Publication: 5621-27, March 1999 (approx. 400 pages; Price: $4450)

Frost & Sullivan, in collaboration with Power Quality Magazine, has produced this major new report. It was written by a friend and colleague, Jane Clemmenson, whose qualifications include many years of experience in the field of power quality, business development, joint venture development, strategic partnering, and technology transfer. She is considered a power quality industry expert, dating back to the mid 80’s when she managed the utility consulting practice at SRI. She has been quoted in Business Week and The Wall Street Journal. She can be reached in Berkeley CA at 510-848-8002,

!!! By special arrangement, UFTO Client companies are being !!!
!!! offered a 25% discount on the purchase price of this report. !!!

Contact: Alex Lopez, Frost & Sullivan,, 650-237-6514, and mention UFTO.

More information is available at:

In addition, I have a PDF version of the brochure which includes the complete table of contents (which at this time is missing from the brochure available on line.) The materials below are from Frost & Sullivan.

Announcement of the Study (prepublication)

Until now, the market for power quality equipment and services has not been described in total. Studies have focused on narrow segments of the market in isolation. A comprehensive view of the market is necessarily broader and includes analysis of competitive and synergistic forces that operate between technologies and segments of the market. A broad view also provides a vantage point for understanding existing industry partnerships and alliances, for spotting merger/acquisition candidates, and for planning corporate strategy. The “Power Quality 50” provides valuable insight on competitors and identifies which companies should be the focus of competitive benchmarking.

The report defines the total power quality market in the United States and Canada, including revenue estimates, growth rates, industry leaders and market share, for the following equipment or aggregated categories of equipment:

* transient voltage surge suppressors
* power conditioners, including isolation transformers and power distribution units, voltage regulators, motor generators, and harmonic filters
* uninterruptible power supplies
* energy storage systems for power quality applications, including superconducting magnetic energy storage systems, battery energy storage systems, mechanical storage systems including flywheels, and capacitor and ultracapacitor systems
* low- and medium-voltage static transfer switches and custom power products
* power quality test and measurement instrumentation and software including hand-held, portable and transportable, and permanently installed types
* software for power quality analysis and power management software
* a qualitative discussion of the market for standby generators in UPS backup applications will be included

The services market is evolving and with deregulation of the electric utility market, energy service companies (ESCOs) are becoming more active in the front end of equipment sales. Future bundling of power quality equipment into power contracts is likely. The report includes revenue estimates, growth rates, industry leaders and market share for ESCO-provided services, vendor-provided services, and independent consulting. The role of architect-engineer and electrical contracting firms is discussed.

A synthesis section describes how these various segments of the equipment and services market compete or act synergistically. The top 50 equipment suppliers and service providers are identified and profiled, with attention to industry leaders in each segment of the market and the total power quality market. Profiles describe each industry leader in terms of its product lines and market share. Profiles also include company history, ownership and affiliations, facts and figures, financials where available, and a discussion of strategies in the marketplace.

Portions of the F&S press release:

“Cross-Segment Competition and New Entrants Challenge Power Quality Market Participants”

Cross segment competition is becoming evident in the power quality market as the debate continues about whether it is more cost-effective to protect end-user equipment at the point-of-use, at a branch circuit, or at a facility level. Small, medium and large-scale solutions are available for different applications, and customer education and marketing is essential. Vendors must now educate themselves about products that compete directly with their own, as well as possible alternative products.

Another challenge that is covered in the study is the entrance of new players such as Siemens, Hewlett Packard and General Electric, who bring with them money and strong corporate backing, say the authors of this study. In addition, the recent consolidation of several large companies has heightened competition.

The power quality market is comprised of over 200 companies, half of which hold identifiable market share in one or more segments of this study. The top equipment suppliers and service providers constitute the Power Quality 50, a term originated by Power Quality Assurance and Frost & Sullivan. The Power Quality 50 accounted for 60.2 percent of the total market in 1997.

It is important to recognize the contributions of companies to particular subsegments where they may be market leaders, no matter how small these companies are with regard to the total market. The top contributors on the basis of 1997 revenue in one or more subsegments makes up Frost & Sullivan’s 50 Market Leaders. This study contains detailed profiles of each company listed in the 50 Market Leaders.

This new study, North American Markets for Power Quality: The Top 50 Equipment Suppliers and Service Providers, addresses the major challenges and issues affecting growth in the market. Frost & Sullivan’s objective is to show how these implications impact the market and to assist equipment manufacturers and service providers in better preparing for a successful future.

This research has integrated the Market Engineering consulting philosophy into the entire research process. Critical phases of this research include: Identification of industry challenges, market engineering measurements, strategic recommendations, planning and market monitoring. All of the vital elements of this system help market participants navigate successfully though the power quality industry.

A news story from the F&S website (available free if you register):

“Primary Restraints in the North American Power Quality Protection Equipment Markets”

The power quality protection equipment markets consists of the following four segments:

– transient voltage surge suppressors (TVSSs)
– power line conditioners (PLCs)
– voltage regulators (VRs)
– shielded isolation transformers

In 1998, the North American market revenues reached $1.4 billion and the market is expected to experience healthy growth throughout the forecast period. Although the markets for power quality protection equipment are growing, manufacturers need to also be aware of several issues which are restraining the revenue growth.

One of the primary restraints affecting the revenue growth of power quality protection equipment is the movement towards the UPS market, based largely on the misconception that they address all power quality problems. In reality, UPSs do not regulate and maintain voltages to electronic equipment nor do they act as an alternative power source. They typically only receive the actual raw electrical power coming in through the sockets. While this misconception has increased the demand for UPSs, it has created a decreasing demand for power quality protection equipment. The incorporation of UPS features into these devices could bring in more revenues for these market segments.

Another restraint that manufacturers should be concerned about is the lack of technological innovation in these products. While the technologies in computers and electronic equipment are continuously and rapidly changing, the technology in power quality protection equipment has remained much the same over recent years. A relative lack of breakthroughs has caused manufacturers to spend valuable resources on other product lines, and decreasing their focus on these products. The power quality protection equipment discussed in this market has remained relatively the same in both appearance and function.

Finally, the third restraint that should be of concern for manufacturers is the general lack of end-user awareness and understanding of the need for power quality protection. Potential and existing end users must become aware and knowledgeable about the possible causes and problems of what is coming through the electrical sockets. Without the appropriate knowledge, customers will most likely not make the best decisions regarding their power problems. A possible effect of this is that by not knowing what power quality protection products are available, consumers may select low-end products to protect their expensive equipment. Using such products can lead to loss of money and damaged equipment.

These are the three issues restraining growth in the North American markets for power quality protection equipment. Manufacturers must create and develop strategies to stay ahead of their competitors and on top of their markets. To learn more about this market, as well as the issues to be aware of, consult Frost & Sullivan’s recent study 5801-27, North American Power Quality Protection Equipment Markets.