Since the beginning of the year, the fuel cell stocks covered in this issue had seen a fast uptrend, which ended with the spread of Covid-19 around the world. Fears over the impact of the disease on the global economy meant some gains were quickly lost. Still, in light of increased news coverage, multiple project announcements and the growing popularity of green hydrogen, it has become clear that hydrogen and fuel cells are entering the mainstream and their breakthrough into the market is approaching rapidly.
Forget the quarterly figures for Ballard Power this year. They are only important to analysts. The CEO already said at the beginning of the year and recently underlined in a Bloomberg interview that this calendar year will be used to build capacity in China (production of the LCS stacks together with Weichai), among other things, to position themselves, to strengthen the central production and R&D location in Vancouver, to expand the workforce and to tackle pilot projects as a basis for orders.
Ballard Power Systems is a pioneer in the fuel cell industry. Since 1983, fuel cells have been developed in the company founded by Geoffrey Ballard in Burnaby near Vancouver. Randy MacEwen has been President & CEO of the Canadian fuel cell manufacturer since 2014. On October 23, 2019, the International Hydrogen Symposium brought him to Hamburg where H2-international seized the opportunity for an interview.
The surprising takeover of the Canadian competitor Hydrogenics will also have a positive impact on Ballard Power’s stock market valuation: Both companies have been frontrunners in FC development for many years. Their activities overlap in rail vehicles and trucks. They are both absolutely tops: Hydrogenics with Alstom and Ballard with CRRC and Siemens. Ballard also has many other activities in the major markets of the future, such as the use of fuel cells in drones.
This remark (“major new customers”) stuck particularly with me, because Ballard – although already on board with many top partners and large companies in research technology – expects further major new customers, according to CEO Randy MacEwen in the telephone conference on the occasion of the figures for the fourth quarter of 2018.
The momentum for the fuel cell is constantly improving with increasing dynamics. Recent co-operations such as those between Bosch and PowerCell, but also positive statements on fuel cells from automobile manufacturers such as Audi are attracting attention. Will China be the driver again, as it was when the batteries were introduced and before that in the field of renewable energies? There, new funding guidelines are about to be introduced, which are intended to favour and strongly promote the fuel cell and the hydrogen infrastructure, while the subsidies for purely battery-operated vehicles will, depending on the radius, be abolished in full or to a large extent.
As the then market leader, Ballard Power (Nasdaq: BLDP) determined soon after taking up its fuel cell activities that there was no way it could compete in the transportation sector. The upfront investment that such a move required was just too great. A decision was made to outsource these activities to AFCC, a Daimler-Ford joint venture
Plug Power’s third-quarter results proved disappointing. The company said that the figures didn’t have any influence on its great prospects, considering a customer base which includes corporations as large as Walmart and Amazon. Their bookings are expected to top USD 600 million in the coming years. During the reporting period, Plug delivered 2,753 GenDrive systems for forklift retrofits, which generated USD 61.4 million in revenue. Current production capacity is at 15,000 systems per year, with 95 percent of them manufactured in-house. Ballard’s contribution has been reduced to a minimum.
Between Oct. 10 and 12 last year, the 16th World of Energy Solutions took place on Stuttgart’s trade show premises – which was good news, considering that Landesmesse Stuttgart and e-mobil BW had previously done little to nothing to support a 2016 implementation. It made the reduction in the number of exhibitors and attendees seem less important and easier to bear. After many long faces on the first day, the mood did improve on the second thanks to an increased interest in the event.
If one takes into account order bookings, collaborations, product developments and prospective markets, buying shares of fuel cell companies looks ever more promising. But the capitalization of the market leaders in fuel cells described in this article amount to a mere USD 750 million – a stark contrast to Tesla, the electric car pioneer, which has a market cap of USD 34 billion. These companies may very well get closer over the coming years, if Tesla gradually loses in value while fuel cell shares increase considerably in price.