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Fuel cell systems for grid hardening

Fuel cell systems for grid hardening

Interview with Christian Leu and Benedikt Eska from Axiosus

An important but often neglected area of application for H2 technology is the uninterrupted supply of power. To prevent flickering lights and even more so blackouts, so-termed UPS (uninterruptible power supply) systems are indispensable. In the best-case scenario, when the network is stable, they will not be used, but their presence is nevertheless of central importance. H2-international spoke about this to Benedikt Eska and Christian Leu, the managing directors of Axiosus Energy GmbH, as well as about the company itself and the technology platform Clean Power Net (CPN).

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Fig.: Christian Leu

H2-international: Let’s start with your FC and hydrogen CV. You have both been in the H2 business for some time already. Since when and where or as what?

Leu: It all started when I started working as a development engineer for fuel cell technology at the Berlin start-up Heliocentris in 1998. Most recently, I was responsible for the stationary fuel cell power supply product line there and during this time involved in the first commercial roll-outs for FC grid replacement systems at the radio communications service BOS in Germany.

Eska: My first serious contact with the subject of fuel cells was over 25 years ago already. In 2001, I then started at Proton Motor and was one of the people responsible for the IPO in London in 2006. In 2009, I founded my consulting company with focus on fuel cells and hydrogen.

Mr. Leu, after this long time at Heliocentris, you were initially active alone in Berlin. Why then did you join forces with Mr. Eska?

Leu: Following the insolvency of Heliocentris in 2017, I took over a position at the firm ITK Engineering, a company within the Bosch Group, for the development of expertise and business in the field of hydrogen and fuel cell technology. Over time, I developed the desire not only to support developers, but above all to help users successfully bring finished developments into commercial use in the long term. As this was not compatible with the business model of ITK, I was looking for opportunities for my own business. In Benedikt, I found an ideal partner – like-minded and complementary in experiences and strengths.

Mr. Eska, after these years of working independently – what prompted you to found your own company with Mr. Leu??

Eska: There were more and more requests in my consulting company asking if I could also help with implementation. For this reason, I had been thinking about changing my legal form for some time and putting my business on a broader footing. Then, something of a coincidence conspired, as I phoned Christian at the right moment. After having already worked together on other occasions, we had an intensive exchange and saw common ground. Admittedly, before COVID and the learning curve with online meetings, we probably wouldn’t have founded the company together in this form a few years ago.

When exactly did you start working together?

Eska: We founded the company together in 2022, but we actually already knew each other from the VDMA (German association for mechanical engineers) working group on fuel cells, or really – for those who know it – from the predecessor AK Berta. That must have been around 2003 or 2004.

Before we come to your services: What does Axiosus stand for?

Leu: We often get this question, of course. Axiosus is a made-up word and already has our field of activity in its name. Axiosus is composed of the Greek axiópistos for “reliable” and the English “sustainability.” Axiosus Energy therefore stands for reliable, sustainable energy supply solutions.

I see. What exactly do you offer then?

Eska: We see ourselves strongly at the interface between system providers and users. The suppliers want to focus on their standard products, and the users are looking for an optimal solution for themselves. We bring both sides together. This starts with the technical conception and site planning through to implementation on site with the various builders. For this, we rely on our partners, for example from the electrical and civil engineering industry. From the user’s point of view, we can also act as a general contractor for suitable projects. We act manufacturer-neutral and open to all technologies.

In summary, there are two pillars: consulting and project development. Our hardware projects are currently mainly in the area of emergency power supply for critical infrastructure. We also provide consulting services in the fields of electrolysis, hydrogen supply and strategic-technological corporate development.

Can you please give us an insight into how big the market for this is – here in Germany alone?

Leu: Without taking into account other applications from other areas of critical infrastructure, 3,800 base stations are in operation in the BOS radio network alone, with power requirements of less than 5 kW. In the service range, we tend to assume more than 10,000 applications with high availability requirements.

You look after, for example, the BOS digital radio in Brandenburg. Can you briefly discuss what you’re doing there with respect to this project?

Eska: In Brandenburg, we are are working as subcontractors of the fuel cell manufacturer Advent Technologies from Denmark. We coordinate all necessary planning and installation work for emergency power systems. We are also the first point of contact for technical questions for the operator. In the next phase, we will also take care of the maintenance and service work.

There’s this great term “grid hardening.” What does that mean?

Leu: The aim of grid hardening is to secure the entire BOS radio network for 72 hours. For this purpose, the existing battery UPS systems are usually supplemented by stationary emergency power systems. Many of the German states rely on fuel cell solutions for this.

Axiosus was at a CPN workshop in 2022, but isn’t, according to the website, a partner of Clean Power Net (CPN). This alliance has been very quiet in recent years. This was once one of the lighthouse projects (Leuchturmprojekt) of the German administrative agency for hydrogen and fuel cell technology (NOW). Is anything still happening there?

Eska: We see CPN as a valuable alliance of manufacturers and suppliers. As we are not members ourselves, we cannot comment on current CPN activities. As guests at the 2022 workshop, we were able to report on our operating experience in Brandenburg.

What is your latest project?

Leu: In our latest project, we are currently helping a big company with the design and procurement of hydrogen storage systems along with the associated logistics concept. We are also continuing to build up our company. First of all, we need to recruit more staff this year in order to meet demand. If all inquiries materialize, we will be able to provide larger power supply services and other orders as a general contractor.

Last question: Are you actually also internationally active?

Eska: Even though we have not been operating for long under Axiosus Energy, we already have customers from both EU and non-EU countries. Our collaboration with the Danish Advent Technologies A/S we’ve already mentioned.

Thank you very much for your answers to the questions.

Interviewer: Sven Geitmann

A new energy infrastructure is emerging

A new energy infrastructure is emerging

“Green” and “blue” ammonia from other continents to come to Europe

Ammonia produced from electrolysis-generated hydrogen is to become the green energy carrier and sustainable basic chemical of the future. The infrastructure for the import is being created at lightning speed. In Hamburg and Brunsbüttel, new terminals are to start operation in 2026.

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In the hydrogen sector, Japan has often been ahead of its time. In 2014, the Japanese government adopted its fourth strategic energy plan. Hydrogen and fuel cells were already high on the list back then. At the same time, various import options were to be investigated. One of them was ammonia.

Ammonia consists, as the chemical formula NH3 reveals, of nitrogen and hydrogen. If produced from hydrogen obtained electrolytically using renewable energies as well as nitrogen from the ambient air, it could become a climate-friendly energy source of the future. In contrast to pure hydrogen, it is comparatively easy to transport: Ammonia becomes liquid under ambient pressure “already” at ‑33 °C or at 20 °C with just under 9 bar. Additionally, the energy density of liquid ammonia lies with 11.4 GJ/m3 substantially over that of liquid hydrogen with 8.52 GJ/m3.

Cracking eats up energy
With so-termed crackers, the ammonia can basically be broken down into hydrogen and nitrogen again. However, this involves an endothermic process. The Fraunhofer Institute for system and innovation research (Fraunhofer ISI) therefore warns in a metastudy on hydrogen import against high conversion losses and high costs when ammonia is used as a carrier to get hydrogen again in the end.

But this is not necessary for all applications, since ammonia can also be used directly as a fuel. Especially in ship transport could ammonia be a promising fuel. Japan wants to use the pungent-smelling gas primarily in coal-fired power plants. There has already been a test run. Starting 2021, the companies JERA and IHI have substituted 20 percent of the fuel in a gigawatt-level coal-fired plant with ammonia. Now, the first commercial terminals are being built. A consortium around Mitsubishi wants to convert a terminal in the port of Namikata to ammonia, and the duo IHI and Vopak are checking where in Japan further import terminals could be built.

Europe setting the pace
Since the energy crisis, Europe has also been flooring it. For this, it is convenient that there are already commercial shipping routes for ammonia. Around 20 million tonnes are transported by ship annually, mainly for the production of fertilizers. That the fertilizer giant Yara International with 15 ships and access to 18 ammonia terminals operates, according to its own information, the largest shipping and logistics network for this is therefore no surprise. But if ammonia is to become an energy source, its transport will need to be able to increase significantly.

At the beginning of 2024, the Dutch Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT) published a “Clean Ammonia Roadmap.” Following this, alone in industry cluster Antwerp-Rotterdam-Rhine-Ruhr could up to 25 million tonnes of “clean” ammonia be generated and imported. The Port of Rotterdam could develop into a central transshipment and storage site. According to the ISPT study, up to three million tonnes annually could be further transported from the Netherlands and Belgium to Germany.

New and retrofitted terminals
To bring ammonia directly to Germany, several terminals are to be built or expanded. In Hamburg, October 2022, the port company HHLA test-imported ammonia in a shipping container from Abu Dhabi, with which the copper producer Aurubis was able to test the substitution of natural gas – an action that seems rather symbolic. For the real use, the energy company Mabanaft plans an import capacity of 600,000 tonnes per year, which is to be available starting 2026.

On the Blumensand Tank Terminal operated by Mabanaft’s subsidiary Oiltanking Deutschland, a tank for the storage of liquid ammonia is to appear. A cracker is to be able to split the ammonia into nitrogen and hydrogen. In preparation for the approval procedure, a so-termed scoping meeting has now taken place with the environmental authority, at which, together with directly affected neighbors, environmental groups and other specialists, the scope of the voluntary environmental impact assessment was discussed.

Via the new terminal in Brunsbüttel, RWE wants to import around 300,000 tonnes of green ammonia annually. Here, too, 2026 is targeted as the starting year. Not really that much when you compare it with the planned LNG terminal, through which 8 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas are to be transported to Germany every year. Comparing the energy content, that’s about 1,560 GWh of ammonia and 80,000 GWh of LNG.

RWE also announced plans to build a cracker to break down some of the ammonia back into hydrogen and nitrogen. Through the energy loss, the relationship between ammonia and LNG drifts further apart. RWE stressed, however, that a retrofit of the LNG terminal for ammonia is to be later possible.

Fewer headlines than the planned new construction have been made by both existing terminals of Yara in Brunsbüttel and Rostock, Germany, in contrast, which the company has so far only used for its own needs. Already about 600,000 tonnes of ammonia arrive in Rostock annually. In total, according to the company’s information, Yara has the ability to deliver 3 million tonnes of clean ammonia, if the demand is available.

Distribution by rail or pipeline
One of the first customers of Yara could be the Leipzig-based natural gas company VNG. The two companies signed a corresponding cooperation agreement in spring 2023. Also Mabanaft in Hamburg has already named the process gas producer Air Products as an anchor customer. RWE is currently examining whether and how ammonia can be further transported by rail in Germany. Also on board is the rail transport company VTG.

The transport of ammonia by rail is not new, but it carries a higher risk than by sea. After all, ammonia not only smells unpleasant, it also attacks the respiratory tract. In the past, accidents involving injuries or even fatalities have repeatedly occurred during transport by train and truck through busy areas, including in Serbia in December 2022 and in the US state of Iowa September 2023. The Bulgarian fertilizer company Agropolychim, after the accident, is now investing in a new fleet of ammonia tankers.

According to a study by Dutch think tank ISPT, pipelines could make the transport of ammonia over land much safer. There are so far around 7,600 kilometers of ammonia pipelines worldwide. In the past 50 years, there have only been eleven accidents, none of which resulting in fatalities.


Fig. 2: Starting 2030, LOTTE Chemical, Mitsubishi and RWE want to produce ammonia in Texas together, Source: RWE

Where does green ammonia come from?
Before the ammonia can be imported to Germany, however, it must first be produced. A hotspot for this is expected to be Namibia with its H2 megaproject Hyphen Hydrogen Energy. With the German company Enertrag as shareholder, the path to hydrogen is practically paved out. The megaproject is set to supply one million tonnes of ammonia, generated using wind and solar energy. Of this, RWE has already reserved 300,000 tonnes by means of a letter of intent. But looking at the quantities cited by ISPT, the currently targeted production in Namibia will not suffice.

RWE therefore has also reported a partnership with the Korean LOTTE Chemical and the Japanese Mitsubishi Group. Together, the companies are investigating the establishment of production of up to 10 million metric tons of ammonia per year in the US state of Texas. Involved are both “blue” and “green” ammonia, and production is to start in 2030. With this, RWE is equally fulfilling a recommendation of Fraunhofer ISI: Join forces with other future importing nations instead of creating a competitive situation.

Author: Eva Augsten

Plug Power – Price jumps with many questions

Plug Power – Price jumps with many questions

The Plug share price fell quickly to under 3 USD (2.50 USD at low) and then rose again to over 4 USD. At a price of less than 3 USD, it was possible to build up excellent trading positions (see H2-international Feb. 2024). Is there now a turnaround in the price trend or was this just a brief flare-up before the downward trend continues? Or will there even be an upward trend reversal?

There is a great opportunity for Plug Power to receive a credit (loan) totaling 1.6 billion USD from the US Department of Energy (DOE) as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. This is to come in the third quarter, although there are also rumors that it could be approved much earlier, but I won’t take part in this speculation. In this ideal scenario Plug will then have sufficient capital to establish and expand several production facilities, for example in Tennessee and New York, and start production there. The stock market will value this – if it happens – very positively: with higher share prices.

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But a loan is borrowed capital that has to be repaid. What are the conditions? How high is the interest or coupon? What are the repayment arrangements? Will the loan be paid out immediately in full or in installments and with target definitions (milestones)? What is Plug doing with the money? If there is no clarity about this or the loan is not approved in the first place, then the stock market will be miffed or react in disappointment, with the consequence of falling share prices.

Parallel to this is running a share placement program (at-the-market) worth 1 billion USD. Of this, already over 305 million USD, through the placement of 77.4 million shares, have flowed into Plug’s account. This will also correlate positively with the DOE credit: If this is granted, Plug’s share price will – even if possibly only for a short time – climb, and this then enables the perfect placement of shares via ATM in the ramp-up. This money from the ATM program can be used to solve the short-term liquidity problem, since the cash on hand lay at just 135 million USD December 31, 2023.

There are also other possible difficulties, because the US Treasury Department is defining how hydrogen must be produced in order to receive the subsidy of up to 3 USD per kg. Plug is relying very heavily on this funding, but there are still questions: From which location must the regenerative energy come from, in what amount and at what point in time? And at which location must the electrolysis take place? With this are, like in the EU, a series of bureaucratic hurdles – unfortunately.

Disappointing figures

What are these figures: The turnover in fiscal year 2023 amounted to, instead of the expected 1.2 billion USD, only 891 million USD. The loss even amounted to 1.4 billion USD, which corresponds to a minus of 2.30 USD per share. The press conference on the results in March raised more questions than it answered.

For example, the material inventory is to be reduced by a value of 700 million USD via the delivery of finished products to customers. Whereas in 2023 only 400 million USD was invested in this area, no more capital is to flow into here in 2024.

The production at locations such as Georgia, Tennessee and Louisiana is to be ramped up and contribute to an increase in the profit margin. These sites are already capable of producing liquid hydrogen for the company itself and supplying it to customers. The Texas and New York sites will only be continued once the DOE loan has been approved, as otherwise they tie up too much liquidity.

In addition, there is to be price raisings (among others for H2, stacks and electrolyzers) and a cost-cutting program of 75 million USD. Liquid hydrogen is currently still being purchased, which entails losses, but is to be replaced by self-produced hydrogen.

After Plug Power – I reported in detail – established production facilities in the USA and internationally in a variety of ways and thus severely strained liquidity, the planned cost-cutting program amounting to 75 million USD is now to take effect. Whether this amount will be sufficient may be doubted, however, because it seems downright ridiculous in view of the Plug’s liquidity problems and comes much too late. That the company has started to produce liquid hydrogen at several locations and has delivered to customers like Amazon and Walmart is good news for now, but will at first have little influence on the company figures.

With orders for electrolyzers too has Plug scored, but it will be some time before significant sales and thus profits are visible here. That the Saudi sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund (PIF) at the end of 2023, with the selling of 5.67 million shares, has completely withdrawn from Plug is not a good sign.

Summary

Words must now be followed by deeds, because all too often very full-bodied forecasts have been made. That Plug will bring partners on board for some projects seems very likely. And also the spin-off (partial sale) of some units is conceivable, if liquidity cannot be adequately presented soon. However, there is currently no need for action. Plug is clearly on my watch list, though, as the company is active in the right markets at the right time. Once the financial problems have been solved, there will possibly also be changes in management, which has lost trust, and Plug will continue on its way.

Over 170 million shares sold short (short interest, status mid-February) are dubious, however, as there is massive speculation against the company or – keywords Amazon and Walmart (warrants) – a form of hedging is being used – no guarantees. All the same, already 10 million shares were short covered in January/February. On the other hand, it is this short interest that can sometimes have a price-driving effect via the covering (short squeeze) when good news is reported. Everything has two sides.

There is still no need for action, however, since the publication of the figures for the first quarter is pending. That various business media in Germany count Plug Power among their top investments in hydrogen befuddles me, though. There are more convincing H2 investments.fa

Disclaimer

Each investor must always be aware of their own risk when investing in shares and should consider a sensible risk diversification. The FC companies and shares mentioned here are small and mid cap, i.e. they are not standard stocks and their volatility is also much higher. This report is not meant to be viewed as purchase recommendations, and the author holds no liability for your actions. All information is based on publicly available sources and, as far as assessment is concerned, represents exclusively the personal opinion of the author, who focuses on medium- and long-term valuation and not on short-term profit. The author may be in possession of the shares presented here.

Author: Sven Jösting

Search for the ideal hydrogen storage

Search for the ideal hydrogen storage

Interview with Thomas Korn, CEO of water stuff & sun

Startup company water stuff & sun has developed a novel technology that is designed to provide a safe and easy way to store hydrogen. The solution’s key component is its microvalve system. A pressure regulator controls the release of hydrogen progressively from 1,000 bar down to just a few bar. H2-international spoke to Thomas Korn, CEO of water stuff & sun, about how it works and the challenges encountered.

H2-international: Mr. Korn, the storage and refueling of hydrogen is a challenging issue. How do you solve that problem?

Korn: As it stands, the storage of hydrogen in conventional compressed gas tanks is complex and expensive. There is a trade-off between performance, safety and cost. We have a surprising solution to this: Instead of using a small number of large cylindrical tanks, our technology allows us to store the same amount of hydrogen in multiple spherical carbon-fiber vessels the size of a tennis ball. The silicon microvalve system, which is built into every pressurized ball, means that all the vessels act identically and in unison, just like a large tank. The expense involved in ensuring the safety of hydrogen stores can be significantly reduced if the energy is split into multiple small vessels. As a result, we save almost half the carbon fiber material compared with a standard pressurized tank. We call these ball-shaped high-pressure storage vessels Sfeers.

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They allow hydrogen cells to be scaled as required and integrated into hydrogen batteries of any shape. Green hydrogen can thus be used in a variety of motive and stationary applications such as trucks, drones and airplanes. The next generation of these energy stores will be 95 percent lighter and up to 30 times cheaper than lithium ion batteries – while still carrying the same amount of energy.


Fig. 2:
Doing the rounds: a Sfeer ball at the EES trade fair in Munich

How does the hydrogen battery work?

Hydrogen batteries are low-pressure hydrogen tanks containing Sfeers which are filled at up to 1,000 bar. The hydrogen battery enclosures are designed for low pressures and can therefore be perfectly adapted to the available installation spaces in a wide array of mobility products. When hydrogen is extracted, the pressure in the hydrogen battery enclosure decreases and activates the microvalve system in all the Sfeers once the pressure drops below a mechanically programmed ambient pressure range. These then release hydrogen, together providing the energy required for a hydrogen engine or a fuel cell.

The pressure in the hydrogen battery rises again above the pressure activation level that is set during the manufacture of the micromechanical components. Once the pressure level has been reached, all the microvalves close. The pressure in the battery stays constant or reduces further if the consumer withdraws more hydrogen. The activation pressure is set to the supply pressure of the consumers. The hydrogen battery can be thought of as a low-pressure tank, but with the capacity of a high-pressure tank.

The concept increases the safety level while at the same time reducing the amount of material used. Since their highly adaptable shape means they can make best possible use of the available space, hydrogen batteries outperform conventional pressurized tanks in terms of volumetric and gravimetric power density.

Microvalve technology has its origins in satellite technology. How is this technology produced?

Satellites have a gas propulsion system that secures their position within the communication window. Even in the early days, industrial developers started to use microsystem technology to regulate gases due to financial pressure to make ever smaller and lighter satellites. Our innovation centers on the development of micromechanical switching elements that don’t need electrical energy for their control; instead they are controlled passively by the ambient pressure. As in semiconductor engineering, highly industrialized manufacturing processes are used that can create thousands of identical parts on large silicon wafers. Valves, gas channels and the five-stage pressure regulator are produced and joined in four silicon layers. All chip components are built into a space measuring 4 x 4 x 2.5 millimeters (0.16 x 0.16 x 0.1 inches).

How did you come up with the idea of spherical high-pressure vessels?

The technology was invented by Prof. Lars Stenmark, who taught microsystem engineering in the Ångström Laboratory at Uppsala University and who had already applied earlier inventions to the aerospace industry. When he told me about his hydrogen storage invention, I was all for it. A physical hydrogen storage vessel that combines two existing technologies and resolves the trade-off between safety, cost and performance in hydrogen tanks – we couldn’t resist and founded the company water stuff & sun in January 2017.


Fig. 3:
A view of the lab shows the test setup for microchip evaluation

Is there already a prototype?

We have already produced and tested prototypes of switching valves and the key element of the valve system – the pressure regulator – in the clean room of the Ångström lab in Uppsala. We have also put a carbon fiber Sfeer prototype through a burst test and validated our simulation model with the results. At the moment we are building the first system prototype of a hydrogen battery with three Sfeer cells. The prototype and its use in a micromobility application will reach technology readiness level 5 in the first half of 2024. At that point we’ll start to develop hydrogen batteries for specific mobility products with several manufacturers and go on to industrialize them in the next stage. There is a great deal of interest from industry. For example, we have already submitted a joint funding project with an aircraft manufacturer and the German Aerospace Center. We are working with our partner Keyou to develop hydrogen batteries for converting and retrofitting trucks and buses. Additionally, we’ve managed to stimulate interest from a mining machinery manufacturer and a truck OEM.

Returning to the refueling process: Am I right that you are intending to swap the tanks?

Hydrogen batteries don’t need to be refueled in the vehicle; they are exchanged at swap stations or, in the case of small applications, they can also be exchanged by hand. That way, refueling can take place quickly and cost-effectively. The empty hydrogen batteries are refilled at central compressor stations and returned to the swap stations. The low operating pressure and the limited quantity of H2 in the hydrogen battery enclosure makes this ease of handling possible. In comparison with conventional high-pressure or liquid hydrogen refueling stations, the expense and complexity are significantly reduced, which in turn lowers the capital and operating costs and thereby also the hydrogen price. For heavy-duty vehicles, for instance, with hydrogen, several hundred liters of fuel energy equivalent need to be compressed, cooled and transferred. By simply swapping the hydrogen battery, the process can be completed in just a few minutes.

The financing required will be considerable. What are the next steps for your company?

The need for capital in a tech startup is always an issue – it’s a continuous process. We have just started a new financing round in which our existing investment partners, such as the investment arm of Kreissparkasse Esslingen-Nürtingen, or ES Kapital for short, the company Besto, run by the entrepreneurial Beyer and Stoll families, and machinery and tooling factory Nagel, have already registered an interest. I would refer to them as relatively down-to-earth, regional investors that have been involved from an early stage. The plan is to invest the new cash in the development of a prototype in the motive application area, as mentioned earlier, among other things. The raw materials for the production of semiconductor chips are all affordable. Carbon fiber and silicon are readily available on the market. That is an advantage in terms of further scaling. If everything goes according to plan, we will see the first of our batteries in a vehicle or aircraft by 2025.


Fig. 4:
The H2 battery should be quick and easy to swap in and out of a truck

When and how will the market for your solution evolve?

The transformation of energy systems is well under way. Infrastructure for natural gas- and oil-based fuels is being replaced by hydrogen and liquid hydrogen derivatives such as ammonia, methanol or synthetic fuels. The competition for technology leadership and, ultimately, energy leadership began long ago. In China and the USA, many billions of euros are now being invested in hydrogen technologies and their infrastructure; we Europeans are attempting to counter this with the Green Deal. Hydrogen projects are sprouting up all over the place. As far as we are concerned, the market has already started; we’re currently concluding cooperation agreements with initial vehicle and machinery manufacturers.

Where will the first market be that manages to develop?

We need to take a multitrack approach and are therefore also looking at the USA and the Arab world. The country that achieves the lowest hydrogen prices by investing will attract a lot of companies and investment. In the EU and Germany I hope that the greenhouse gas quota gives us an instrument that is competitive.

You won a prize at the World CleanTech StartUPs Awards, otherwise known as WCSA 2023. What particularly impressed the judges?

Firstly, the award as a platform is a very interesting network in itself. Applications for WCSA 2023 were invited by ACWA Power in strategic partnership with Dii Desert Energy and the French institute for solar energy CEA-INES, among others. The judging panel recognized the transformative potential of the hydrogen battery. The innovation could create an efficient and flexible infrastructure for H2. The electricity costs for hydrogen production from renewables are very low in Dubai. That’s why ACWA invited us again at the end of 2023 to present our solution locally. That will be extremely exciting.

In November we received two awards at the Global EnergyTech Awards: the prize for the Best CleanTech Solution for Energy and a special prize for Best Stand Out Performer. We were the only winners from Germany. That helps.

Interviewer: Niels Hendrik Petersen


Fig. 5:
Thomas Korn

Thomas Korn has been working in the hydrogen field since 1998. The engineer’s experience includes work at BMW on fuel cell development. In 2015, he co-founded the hydrogen startup Keyou in Munich. The startup water stuff & sun was launched in 2017 in Unterschleißheim, Bavaria. The fledgling company now has 15 members of staff and a branch in Uppsala, Sweden.

Is exponential growth slowing down?

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.

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