Is hydrogen fuel cell energy storage a good investment? Photo: Plug Power stock was not as affected as others by the bankruptcy of fuel-cell technology company ClearEdge Power.
The demise of ClearEdge Power last month raises questions over the future of a technology that has many followers yet steadfastly refuses to take off.
Fuel cells, the product commercialised by ClearEdge, have a history dating back to 1838 and a service record that includes use by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Selling them seems to be a hazardous affair, however.
In 2012, ClearEdge paid USD$48m for the fuel cell business that United Technology Corporation (UTC) had spent a reported $1bn building up.
In April this year, however, Ballard Power Systems bought around 800 UTC fuel-cell intellectual property assets, leading some observers to question what it was, exactly, that ClearEdge had purchased.
But there are doubts even over whether Ballard, one of the biggest names in the fuel cell business, can make the numbers work. Stocks in the company soared at the beginning of the last decade, when fuel cells were expected to be the next big thing in transportation.
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Telstra is deploying Ballard Power fuel cell backup energy storage systems in order to stabilise its grid in remote parts of Australia. Photo credit: Telstra
A selection of energy storage news from our Twitter feed over the last week.
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In an update to a story we first ran back in March, the government of South Africa has recently announced its backing for Ballard Power and Anglo American Platinum’s deployment of a domestic fuel cell system. Field trials will test a methanol-fueled product designed for use in off-grid residential applications.
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Still on the bus beat, Ballard Power Systems has announced a non-binding memorandum of understanding with its partner Azure Hydrogen Corporation of Beijing, China, extending the scope of their collaboration to include fuel-cell buses.
Azure plans to develop fuel-cell bus capabilities in China with Ballard’s technical support and funding from Chinese sources, including private investors and various levels of government.
A fuel cell for telecommunications base station backup power won an Emerging Technologies Award at the wireless technologies CTIA 2013 conference last week in Las Vegas. The system bagged a prize in the Green Telecom and Smart Energy Solutions category and was jointly developed by Nokia Siemens Networks and Ballard Power Systems.
A Ballard hydrogen fuel cell bus. Pic courtesy of HyER
It may be a tiny pond… but Ballard Power Systems is convinced it will be the biggest fish in it. According to a recent press release, the company “anticipates powering approximately 40 of the 50 zero-emission fuel cell buses used in public transit revenue service on European roads in 2014.”
The largest number will be the 10-vehicle strong fleet in Aberdeen, Scotland. There is only one larger: the 20-bus fleet that has been operating in Whistler, Canada since 2010.
If these numbers seem small, it’s perhaps worth remembering that most if not all these deployments are seen mainly as demonstration programmes, with fuel cell innovators highly reliant on non-corporate support such as the Sustainable Development Technology Canada fund, as in Ballard’s case.