On March 19, German heating manufacturer Viessmann, based in Allendorf, announced it would shut down Hexis, its subsidiary in charge of developing SOFCs. The headline of the press release sounded rather innocuous: “Viessmann takes new path to implementing future-proof technology.“ However, in the third paragraph, the company then said it “will discontinue operations at Hexis.“
It went on to write that while it had taken note of ”the growing importance of hydrogen and fuel cells in supplying energy to homes in Germany as well as Europe“ and intends to stay committed to the technology, it will no longer manufacture its own devices, offered across Europe since 2014. They will be replaced by a Panasonic PEM system, which is run at relatively low temperatures and is suited especially for new or recently renovated buildings. In Japan, Panasonic has already installed more than 290,000 of the devices.
Compared to the Panasonic system, the SOFC unit made by Hexis has always been at a disadvantage. Run at higher temperatures, the module was designed to provide power mainly in existing building stock at higher output. Named Galileo, it worked as expected but was expensive and less tried and tested. Hexis said several hundred of the devices had been installed as part of multiple demonstration projects.
Consequently, the parent company’s management decided to keep offering both PEMs und SOFCs but limit itself to the role of system integrator. Viessmann is now looking for industrial partners from which it could purchase the fuel cell technology, with the aim of reaching economies of scale in much less time.