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Fuel Cells: Emerging Technologies and Business Opportunities

Publication Date: November 2002

Fuel cell technology is currently at a major crossroad. The potential benefits of fuel cells in general for stationary, portable, mobile and distributed power applications are clearly established. Driving forces for the broad-based, global installations of fuel cell systems include:

  • Hydrogen, the principal fuel, is available from a variety of sources and reduces dependence on petroleum feedstocks
  • Environment-friendliness because there are essentially no harmful reaction by-products
  • The potential to provide weight advantages, longer life, and greater flexibility than batteries for remote, portable and military applications
  • The capability to provide back-up and primary power to a global economy that is dependent upon computers and an uninterruptible supply
  • Technical feasibility of transportation/mobile applications for fuel cells has been established

The structure of the fuel cell industry is complex. While several large organizations have the ability to technically develop and integrate the major components of fuel cell systems, by and large the industry is made up of smaller companies with basic fuel cell technology that rely on suppliers of key components and marketing relationships with utilities and appliance manufacturers to bring the finished systems to the marketplace. Due to the uniqueness of individual fuel cell designs, the sourcing of technology and components is frequently managed through alliances and partnerships. TCI has recognized the strategic importance of such alliances for the successful launching of fuel cell systems.

Technology Catalysts International (TCI) has monitored trends and developments in the industry for the past five years and has determined that there are a number of critical areas where impediments to cost-competitive, commercial-scale manufacture remain. In TCI’s view, research currently underway at universities, research institutes, government laboratories, and smaller, innovative, research-driven companies will be important contributors to solving the most challenging problems. Strategic alliances will be a key to integrating these technical advances and overcoming barriers to large-scale commercialization.

The primary focus of this report is to identify the emerging technologies and business opportunities resulting from the developments at the smaller companies and various research organizations. As is typical of all reports published by TCI, information is being developed by direct interview with technology developers. Purchasers will learn whether the technology is available, and if so, how they can access it. This may be via license, purchase of a component, or co-development through an alliance. An equity investment in identified smaller companies is an alternative approach to gaining access to next-generation technologies.

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