Fuel Cell Market: Transport Sector Is Growing Rapidly

Capacity shipped per year, by type of application from 2011 through 2016 (in MW)

In November 2016, E4tech published data and analyses on the fuel cell industry in its latest edition of Fuel Cell Industry Review. Since 2014, it has contacted businesses in the industry and aggregated their shipment figures to capture the most recent market developments. The following sections will present some excerpts from this review and explain the changes to the preliminary 2016 figures published last November.

In many respects, 2016 was a successful year for the fuel cell industry. The fuel cell capacity shipped worldwide added up to around 480 MW, a considerably higher number than the 300 MW of 2015. Much of the industry’s growth in recent years was a result of increasing production capacities and sales in the vehicle segment, which has – for the first time – climbed to the top spot on the ranking of the most important fuel cell markets of 2016. This trend will only get stronger in the coming years.

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As in previous years, the other driver in the transport segment was the lift truck for logistic centers. In early 2017, Plug Power announced that it had supplied 4,000 fuel cell systems for these forklifts. All in all, more than 10,000 fuel cell versions are now roaming the halls of logistic providers. A new entrant to the market is Nuvera Fuel Cells, meanwhile bought up by Hyster-Yale, which should help increase sales even further this year.

Other types of vehicles such as buses, trains and trucks weren’t that successful in making their mark on 2016’s shipment statistics, but the number of fuel cell buses is expected to grow considerably in 2017. The signs had already been there last year, in the unpublished production figures for fuel cell modules and stacks (we only count end products, meaning the vehicle including the module, not the module on its own). Taking a second look at those numbers, we expect China to become the biggest market for fuel cell bus technology, with at least 300 new buses in 2017 alone.

Where China leads, others follow?

The pressing issue of air quality and the country’s efforts due to the Paris Climate Agreement will continue to push the market forward for a long time to come. The establishment of a domestic fuel cell industry has been officially sanctioned by the government when it created a national strategy, with a roadmap extending to 2030. The example of the local electric car industry, however, also illustrates the difficulties of trying to create an entire market basically overnight. In early 2017, the government made abrupt changes to the incentives for battery-electric vehicles to prevent fraud and force out disreputable suppliers. The measure may have been necessary, but did make observers feel uneasy about China’s market development for a short while.

New avenues for stationary fuel cells?

Until a few years ago, the fuel cell market had been dominated by stationary applications. The preliminary November figures pointed to slight growth in the stationary segment, but after updating the 2016 figures, this growth seems to have evaporated. The big players on the large-scale system market (100 kilowatts to several megawatts) remain; they are FuelCell Energy, Bloom Energy, Doosan and Fuji Electric. Other manufacturers in this segment include Mitsubishi Hitachi, GE, LG and some less well-known businesses.

Going into 2017, the ENE-FARM program in Japan remained as one of the main pillars of the fuel cell market. It has supported the installation of 200,000 micro-CHP systems to date, even though the original target of 1.4 million by 2020 seems almost out of reach. One particularly intriguing development in 2016 was the strong growth in SOFC installations. They have gained a considerable foothold in the market and are second only to the already well-established PEM units by Panasonic and Toshiba.

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Micro-sized fuel cells far from a success story

Sales of portable fuel cells faced a severe decline in 2016 because of a drop in the number of small USB chargers for consumer electronics, typically with few watts of output. Most businesses have shut down or at least halted their activities. The only 2017 development worth mentioning I this segment seems to be myFC, which announced it would ship 1,000 units to China between 2017 and 2018. One portable technology still going strong, however, is UPS with units of, on average, 100 watts of capacity. Designed for various off-grid applications, they are sold by SFC Energy in particular.

Few changes to preliminary figures

The charts in this news article are based on the n…

You can download the entire report, including shipment numbers, data tables, analyses and comments, as a PDF at www.FuelCellIndustryReview.com

Authors: Franz Lehner, David Hart, both from E4tech, Lausanne, Switzerland

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