There is a noticeable feeling of change in the air, and it is not mere hype this time. A current of hope runs through the hydrogen and fuel cell industry. No, there’s no euphoria, but also no longer the sense of discouragement, resignation sometimes, that frequently pervaded the community in past years. The general opinion coming out of the sector is that hard work is finally paying off. It goes without saying that these technologies are not yet market staples, but we see that fuel cells will have a place in energy conversion and hydrogen will have a place in energy storage.
A noticeable boost in application occurred at the beginning of last year, when it became apparent that transportation of loads of goods or people offered much more potential for fuel cells than the passenger car market (see cover story, H2-international January 2018). Great innovations have been made for trains in recent years, which will benefit trucks and buses. Larger vehicles also need larger amounts of hydrogen to refuel them, so high-throughput stations that fill this need could quickly become profitable.
Another new and noteworthy innovation is being implemented by DHL. The courier is said to be adding fuel cell cars produced by StreetScooter to the fleet of electric delivery vehicles the subsidiary already provides for day-to-day operations.
With these novelties comes an ever-growing demand for clean hydrogen. Its production in the energy-rich north of Germany could be multiplied. For example, in Schleswig-Holstein, there are more and more who recognize that the vast amounts of renewable electricity can be used to generate green hydrogen and are seizing the opportunity. In northern Friesland, these prospects have created an air of expectation, which is bound to spread to other regions of the country.
All these individual happenings can be considered part of a larger development that was whispered about in the mid-1990s and gained real momentum around the turn of the millennium, when the world began serious research into hydrogen and fuel cells. Over the years, a great deal of new materials, components and technologies came into being, along with a whole new industrial sector. With more time and effort, these systems could become economically viable very soon.
Fifteen years is how long it took for many technologies, including the ones above, to enter the market. According to American trend researcher and futurist John Naisbitt, this is the timespan for establishing a megatrend (see Megatrend looming after 15 years of getting by).
Lastly, a look at the stock charts of notable fuel cell companies reveals that there is a significantly rising interest in this technology. This trend goes not only for American but also German businesses, such as SFC Energy. However, the upswing cannot hide the fact that those stocks currently trade far below their issue prices.
In conclusion, we begin this year with hope, keeping in mind that the road to progress has been long and still stretches ahead.