Fuel cell industry grows despite COVID-19

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E4tech Fuel Cell Industry Review

In March 2021, the new Fuel Cell Industry Review 2020 was published, complete with market data and detailed analysis. Since 2014, the team led by E4tech has been contacting fuel cell companies from across the globe, aggregating their shipment figures and producing an independent report each year on the current state of the fuel cell sector. Several extracts are provided here.

2020 was not the year many of us expected. But despite the very difficult situation brought about by COVID-19, fuel cell shipments continued to rise. The increase was much less than we anticipated at the end of 2019, both because of supply chain disruption and local economic slowdown, but is a very encouraging sign.

The leading applications remain passenger cars, combined heat and power (CHP), and prime power, and the same companies are dominant as in previous years. At nearly 82,500 units, 2020’s fuel cell shipments are up significantly on 2019’s 72,600. Megawatts shipped went up from nearly 1,200 MW to just over 1,300 MW. Asia continues to lead the unit shipments, and Hyundai again shipped most MW. For unit numbers, micro-CHP is the main contributor, with over 47,000 units expected to have been delivered for Ene-Farm in Japan and another 5,000 to the KfW 433 initiative in Germany, with about 1,000 going to the pan-European PACE program. The roughly 50 percent of Ene-Farm units that are proton exchange membrane, PEM, are not subsidized, and the remaining SOFC units only receive a small contribution, showing that these markets are starting to stabilize and commercialize. And many of the units installed in Europe are Panasonic technology, licensed and developed for the European market by Viessmann, enabled through the improvements engendered by Ene-Farm. SOLIDpower is another steady presence in that market.

Vehicles are another major contributor. Toyota and – mainly – Hyundai shipped over 8,500 cars in 2020. But cars are even more important for the contribution they make to power, over 850 MW globally, or nearly two thirds of the shipped capacity for all applications. Bus and truck shipments are particularly significant in China, at over 1,400 units shipped in 2020, a combined capacity of nearly 90 MW. This represented a significant decline from 2019, caused partly by policy uncertainty. Previous blanket subsidies are being replaced by targeted measures to support regions and supply chain players, and manufacturers paused their roll-out efforts until they knew funding could be available. That now looks assured, with further focus on the local policy and institutional environment, and on reducing costs and creating economies of scale, and not just on making running vehicles. This all links to China’s longer-term policy goal of developing the indigenous capability for putting 50,000 vehicles on the road by 2025.

Materials handling stays strong, with Plug Power reports indicating shipments up from over 6,000 units in 2019 to perhaps 10,000 units over 2020 – despite COVID. Other materials handling providers are becoming more active too, with Hyster-Yale’s Nuvera business aiming also at larger lift trucks, for example at shipping ports, and Toyota Industries and Linde also increasing their interest.

Stationary markets other than small CHP grew too, with large CHP and prime power units together contributing over 270 MW new capacity in 2020, 40 MW more than 2019 – and around 400 units globally. Fittingly, smaller fuel cells for grid support and off-grid power contributed smaller unit and power numbers – about 2,200 units and around 8 MW of capacity. Portable fuel cell units, at around 4,000 shipped, were similar to 2020. SFC Energy remains the consistent sector player, with a mix of recreational battery extenders, remote monitoring and remote power units. Unmanned aerial vehicles still await lift-off, with only a small uptick in numbers in 2020. Offerings included those from Plug Power (former Energy OR), Intelligent Energy, Doosan Mobility Innovation and HES Energy Systems.

… Read more in the latest H2-International e-Journal, Feb. 2021

Authors: David Hart, E4tech, Lausanne, Switzerland; Stuart Jones, E4tech, London, UK

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