There are several markets where fuel cell manufacturers are finding not only sales, but repeat customers, for their products. These include large stationary fuel cells to power buildings; small stationary fuel cells for telecom and residential applications; portable power for military use and other mobile applications; as a replacement for battery power in materials handling applications; as primary power or auxiliary power units (APU) in a variety of transportation applications (passenger vehicles, buses, trucks); and hydrogen production and storage.
Familiar companies using fuel cells (or planning to deploy them soon) include: Adobe, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, BMW, Bridgestone-Firestone, Coca-Cola, Cox Enterprises, eBay, FedEx, Fireman’s Fund, Google, Kaiser Permanante, Kimberly-Clark, Michelin, Motorola, Nestlé Waters, Nissan North America, Odwalla, Pepperidge Farm, Price Chopper, Safeway, Sierra Nevada Brewery, Sprint Nextel, Staples, Sutter Home Family Vineyards, Sysco, T-Mobile, Verizon, Walmart, Wegmans, and Whole Foods Market.
(MCFC, PAFC, SOFC, PEM)
Grocery and Retail Establishments, Hospitals, Data Centers, Government Buildings, Corporate Sites, Wastewater Treatment Plants, Jails, Agricultural and Beverage Processing Facilities, and Breweries
U.S. fuel cell manufacturers Bloom Energy, FuelCell Energy, and UTC Power are selling fuel cell systems (or selling fuel cell-generated power, via a power purchase agreement – see our Financing section) to well-known corporations, municipalities, and state and local governments, for primary power or for combined heat and power (CHP) applications. These systems range from 100 kW to more than 5 MW in capacity. Because stationary fuel cells can be installed as part of the electric grid, or in parallel with it, they can provide reliable power to a site without interruption in the event of a grid failure or blackout. This allows these business or government sites to continue their operations and helps grocers and warehouses to keep refrigerators and freezers running to prevent the expensive spoilage of goods.
Most large stationary fuel cell systems are fueled by natural gas, but anaerobic digester gas (ADG), derived from wastewater, manufacturing processes, or from crop or animal waste, is being used more frequently as a feedstock. ADG-powered fuel cells are being used at a number of wastewater treatment plants, as well as at breweries and agricultural processing facilities. This up-and-coming resource is counted as a renewable fuel in several states.
Telecommunications, Residential, and Small Commercial Buildings
As more consumers are using cellular phones, wireless laptops, Blackberry’s and other mobile devices, telecommunications companies are meeting the need by installing towers and substations at a phenomenal rate worldwide. As the need for reliable cell phone and critical communication networks grows, fuel cell manufacturers ReliOn, Altergy Systems and IdaTech have found success selling fuel cell systems that provide long-running, primary or backup power for telecom switch nodes, cell towers, and other electronic systems that require reliable, on-site, direct DC power supply. The fuel cells are quiet, rugged and durable, generating reliable, long-running power at hard-to-access locations, or sites that are subject to harsh or inclement weather. They are typically in the range of 1 to 5 kW.
Smaller stationary fuel cells are also ideal for residential and small commercial applications. Fuel cell manufacturer ClearEdge Power’s fuel cell product generates power and enough excess heat to warm about 750 gallons of water (domestic hot water) or heat a swimming pool. The company’s high-temperature PEM fuel cell is being sold primarily in California, where the Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) provides generous funding for fuel cell installations.
Soldier Power, Surveillance, Mobile Lighting, and Battery Chargers
Several companies, including fuel cell manufacturers Protonex, Smart Fuel Cell, UltraCell and UltraElectronics AMI, are developing smaller, portable fuel cell units for battery charging and auxiliary power for use in military, surveillance and emergency response applications. Fuel cells can replace batteries or generators, lightening the load carried into the field, and providing uninterrupted power and extended run-times to field computers and critical communications equipment. Some are currently being demonstrated in theater by American soldiers deployed in Afghanistan.
Portable fuel cells are also being developed for other mobile power applications. Fuel cell manufacturer Altergy Systems’ fuel cell units have been used to power lighting at the NASA shuttle launch and the red carpet at several major film and music award ceremonies. Fuel cells are also being developed for cell phone charging applications.
The U.S. is the world leader in fuel cell forklift deployment, with more than 4,000 systems either deployed or on order. Many customers are coming back and ordering more units for additional facilities, including Coca-Cola, Walmart and Sysco. Plug Power is the leading manufacturer, working with Ballard Power Systems to develop their fuel cell system. Oorja Protonics is also selling hundreds of their direct methanol range extenders for forklifts.
Fuel cell forklifts can lower total logistics costs since they operate longer, require minimal refilling and need less maintenance compared to electric forklifts. Batteries are heavy and provide on average six hours of run time, while fuel cells last more than twice as long (12-14 hours). Warehouses and distribution centers can install their own hydrogen fueling station in-house and fuel cell forklifts take only one to two minutes to refuel, compared to the half hour or longer it takes to change out a battery. This also eliminates the need for battery storage and changing rooms, leaving more warehouse space for products. Another key advantage that fuel cell forklifts have over battery-powered ones, in relation to the grocery and food distribution industry, is the ability to perform in freezing temperatures, making them suitable to refrigeration and freezer operations.
Passenger Vehicles, Buses, and Campers
Daimler and Honda are leasing fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) in California, and the other automakers have vehicles on the road in various states, including New York and Connecticut. Toyota announced it will place more than 100 of its FCHV-adv fuel cell vehicles at universities, private companies and government agencies in both California and New York. Most major auto manufacturers anticipate that commercial sales of fuel cell vehicles will begin in 2015.
Fuel cell buses operate in daily revenue service in California, Texas, Connecticut, Delaware, as well as internationally, with more on the way.
In Europe, fuel cell auxiliary power units (APUs) are being sold as an optional accessory to power electronics in “caravans”, or campers, when parked in remote locations or campsites.
Hydrogen Production and Storage
With the sales of fuel cell forklifts in the U.S. growing every day, and with fuel cell buses and vehicles already on the road, several companies are focused on generating and dispensing hydrogen to service them. Large chemical companies such as Air Products and Linde are working with state agencies and companies to open hydrogen fueling stations, as well as dispensers at warehouses and forklift sites. Proton Onsite has joined with SunHydro to open a public station network on the East Coast. Smaller companies such as Pdc Machines and Avālence are also moving units to help increase and improve the hydrogen infrastructure.
For more on fuel cell markets, please see the resources below:
Fuel Cells 2000
The Business Case for Fuel Cells 2011: Energizing America’s Top Companies - Profiles 24 new customers and 10 repeat customers (from 2010 report) saving time, money and emissions by using fuel cells.
The Business Case for Fuel Cells: Why Top Companies are Purchasing Fuel Cells Today – A 2010 report that profiles thirty-eight nationally recognized companies and corporations (including 11 Fortune 500 ones) that are purchasing and deploying fuel cells in various capacities, highlighting the attractive benefits and savings fuel cells offer over competing technologies.
Stationary Fuel Cells at Grocery and Retail Sites – A chart of stationary fuel cells that deliver power or combined heat and power at retail and grocery stores and warehouses.
State Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Database – A constantly updated searchable database of state programs, policy, incentives, initiatives, stationary fuel cell installations, vehicle demonstrations and hydrogen fueling stations.
Worldwide Stationary Fuel Cell Installation Database – A searchable, sortable catalogue of stationary fuel cell installations around the world.
Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association
FCHEA Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Catalog - A searchable database of hydrogen and fuel cell products from components to full modules.