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Is exponential growth slowing down?

By Stuart Jones

March 15, 2024

Image titel: Stuart Jones ERM, London, UK

Sources: David Hart ERM, Lausanne, Switzerland

Is exponential growth slowing down?

Fuel Cell Industry Review 2022

Year 2022 saw fuel cell shipments creep up over 2021 numbers, though the latter was a remarkable year. When 2021 exceeded 2020’s MW numbers by over 70%, we thought we were finally seeing the uptick that had been anticipated – the classic “hockey stick” pattern. But the structure of the industry – and its reliance on only a few players for the majority of shipments – means that growth comes in spurts.

E4tech’s eighth annual Fuel Cell Industry Review showed just under 86,000 units shipped in 2021, or just over 2,300 MW, even with the COVID pandemic still hanging over markets. But this rapid growth was largely due to the activities of two vehicle OEMs, Hyundai and Toyota, together accounting for over 70% of the megawatts. But even after taking these out of the picture, growth continues – slowly but surely.

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E4tech is now part of ERM and the team is continuing to research and write the Review. The ninth FCIR shows that 2022 shipments were similar to the year before – with the continued but slow growth still led by Hyundai and Toyota, at over 60% of MW shipments, and by fuel cell buses and trucks into China. In 2022, we estimate nearly 89,200 fuel cells to have been shipped, amounting to almost 2,500 MW.

Analysis by region

For vehicles (which by far is the largest contribution, at 85% of all shipments by megawatts), much of the demand was localized to China and South Korea. China saw over 4,150 units being shipped, across all modes of mobility (including forklifts, now slowly taking off in the country), while South Korea saw nearly 10,400 deployments, dominated by Hyundai’s Nexo. Together with 831 Toyota Mirais going into the home market of Japan, Asia now accounts for around 15,600 units into transportation markets, or 17% of global shipments of fuel cells by number, but rather more impressively some 1,500 MW (60%) of the shipped megawatt count.

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Hyundai is benefitting from the 50% subsidy for fuel cell vehicles in South Korea. South Korea is now also the single largest market for large stationary units, in CHP and prime power modes. Stationary shipments into the country grew from 147 MW in 2021 to 196 MW in 2022 (8% of the global MW count). These numbers illustrate the importance of South Korea for fuel cell shipments – and, moreover, the key role of sustained policy and subsidies in helping fuel cell companies and OEMs to achieve volume.

In context of the Japan’s Ene-Farm program, across all markets (stationary, mobility and portable), Asia accounts for 60,850 units (two-thirds of global shipments) and 1,770 MW (71% of global shipments). Behind Asia is North America, with around 14,550 fuel cell shipments (nearly 485 MW, or 19% of global shipments in megawatts), led by Toyota and Bloom Energy shipments to the United States. Europe accounted for roughly 13,250 of fuel cell shipments in 2022, down from just over 14,000 units in 2021. The fall in unit shipments followed the completion of the PACE program of the US Inflation Reduction Act and the imminent closure of KfW-433 grant funding by Germany. In megawatts, the count slightly increased, from a corrected 204 MW in 2021 to 228 MW in 2022, about 9% of the global market. Fuel cell vehicle shipments to Europe are lower than for Asia and the US because of the low subsidies provided by the national governments.

Analysis by application

Fuel cells for mobility, primarily cars, continued to dominate the overall count. Across all modes of mobility (including forklifts), 85% of shipments (2,100 MW) fell into this category in 2022, 150 MW more than in 2021. In units, mobility accounted for 35% of shipments in 2022, a slight fall from 2021’s share. So, the message is transportation is growing, but other fuel cell markets are growing too.

The next main contributor to vehicle shipments is China, with a record 3,789 units (buses and trucks) being shipped over 2022. Together, these are estimated as contributing 387 MW to the overall count in 2022.

While nearly 1,000 fuel cell buses were shipped into China in 2022, fewer came to Europe in 2022 (only 99 registrations). According to CALSTART figures, as many as 82 new fuel cell buses were fielded in the US in 2022, mostly in California. Outside China, fuel cell truck shipments globally in 2022 remained minuscule. This could change, given the business plans of Cellcentric, Plastic Omnium, Hyzon and others.

Fuel cells for ships and for aviation remains exploratory, now with a growing emphasis on propulsion rather than hotel loads or auxiliary power. Forklifts continue to be a major application for fuel cells, albeit with fewer unit shipments in 2022 (over 9,650 units) compared to 2021 (over 13,400 units). Prime power and CHP comprise a large part of the remaining demand, in unit numbers and in MW. By number, micro-CHP still dominates, with Japan leading with its Ene-Farm program. ACE shows 42,877 units being installed in 2022, over 3,000 units more than the previous year. Outside Japan and Europe, micro-CHP shipped in negligible numbers, further demonstrating the criticality of country-to-country policy in supporting fuel cells. Together, prime power and CHP across the power range contributed 364 MW shipments in 2022, up from 335 MW in 2021. Although a growing emphasis for developers, fuel cells for grid support and off-grid power has remained subdued, at 14 MW (for both years). Shipments of portable fuel cells (including smaller ported APUs, less than 20 kW in power output) showed an increase, from just over 6,000 units in 2021 to nearly 8,000 units in 2022. These are supplied globally, but most feed into European and North American industrial and consumer markets.

Shipments by fuel cell type

PEM continues to outweigh other fuel cell types in shipments, both in volume and in MW capacity. Of the nearly 90,500 fuel cells shipped in 2022, over 55,000 were PEM. By megawatts, PEM fuel cells recorded 2,151 MW, 86% of the overall volume of shipments.

High-temperature PEM, generally utilizing methanol rather than hydrogen as a fuel, continues to grow, led by Advent Technologies. While still a fraction of overall PEM units at present, shipments are set to grow more aggressively given the improved logistics and increased runtimes enabled by the methanol fuel. DMFC (direct methanol) had a good year, with nearly 8,000 units shipped over 2022, mostly from SFC Energy.

SOFC (solid oxide) grew to nearly 27,000 units in 2022 (mostly micro-CHP, by number). The MW count grew from 207 MW in 2021 to 249 MW in 2022. Much of this is attributable to stronger sales from Bloom Energy. PAFC (phosphoric acid fuel cell) shipments fell, and while no new MCFC (molten carbonate) system placements were recorded over 2022, FuelCell Energy continues to produce significant volumes of stacks, for mid-life refurbishment of systems. AFC (alkaline) shipments increased to over 100 units in 2022, way down on other fuel cell types despite the lower cost potential, both for the fuel cell stack and the hydrogen purity requirement.

Summary

Fuel cells had a good year in 2022. Despite shipments being dominated by a few key suppliers into just a few countries, we are at last beginning to see shipments into Australia and South America, buoyed by the greater interest in hydrogen generally. And while interest is helpful, it remains the case that fuel cells have yet to break through the high capital cost threshold, and (for the hydrogen-fueled units) high fuel prices. We are slowly seeing this happen, through big changes to the supplier landscape, the IPCEI initiative in Europe, significant capacity upgrades to fuel cell production, and the Inflation Reduction Act in the US. But for now, the message remains the same: sustained support from governments is still needed to allow fuel cells to fully support the energy transition. Some fuel cell companies are now also purposing their designs to electrolysis, to help push the market, and with it the hockey stick.

ERM’s Review, a digest of the year’s activity, together with an analysis of fuel cell shipments by region, type and application year on year, is available at http://FuelCellIndustryReview.com. The 2022 edition is delayed, but coming soon. We would like to thank all the fuel cell shippers who graciously provide shipment numbers to us each year, which helps underpin our review.

Author: Stuart Jones, ERM, London, UK, Stuart.Jones@erm.com

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