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Visible fuel cell business opportunities at FC EXPO 2013

published: 2013-03-14 16:19

As the oldest exposition of Smart Energy Week, FC EXPO (a fuel cell exposition) was held in Odaiba, Tokyo on February 27, 2013. According to EnergyTrend, a research division of TrendForce, along with the maturing fuel cell development subsidized by the Japanese government, the fuel cell demonstration project is about to come to an end. Japanese car manufacturers plan to commercialize fuel cell electric vehicles in 2015, 20,000 domestic fuel cells were sold in 2012, and related components are expected to take place in peripheral industries in 2013.

Fig. 1: 9th FC EXPO—2013
Source: FC EXPO 2013

Fuel cells are able to transform thermal energy and electricity at the same time, and the overall efficiency of Combined Heat and Power/ CHP is up to 85%, which is far more efficient than wind power (30%) and solar power (15%). Though short service life and high material price have been the major problems of fuel cells, there have been improvements in recent years. It is expected that with the maturing fuel cell technology and price, new industries such as new gas stations, electricity/ heat source configuration, and energy management will emerge.

In the Japanese market, fuel cells may develop most rapidly in fields such as energy storage systems and the vehicle industry. Proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) are most suitable for vehicles, and Solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) are most suitable for set-based applications.

Until 2010, Japanese manufacturers have focused mostly on fuel cell technology; in recent years, the METI has established the HySUT fuel cell application program that integrates industries including vehicles, oil, and gas stations. Related supply chains started to link hydrogen production to the back-end distribution, and following the 5-year development and demonstration stage that ended in 2011 (Fig. 2), the implementation of new plans suggested that Japanese vehicle manufacturers have set 2015 as the first year for the mass production of fuel cell electric vehicles (Fig.2).
Fig. 2 Fuel cell vehicle development blueprint by the Japanese government
Source: HySUT 2013
TrendForce indicated that because fuel cells have features including long mileage range and short refueling time, using PEMFC and hydrogen as the power source is becoming the current trend in the vehicle industry. According to the HySUT project, due to the development of related industries, hydrogen fuel cost per kilometer will be equivalent to oil price in 2015. In addition, hydrogen could become the current best renewable energy and the cleanest decentralized energy, and also stimulate Green Revolution in the domestic energy market. Due to its considerable market appeal, Toyota and Honda have both planned to introduce commercially viable fuel cell vehicles in 2015, and Nissan has planned to launch such vehicles before 2017 (Fig. 3).
Fig 3 Comparison of Japanese fuel cell vehicles
Source: EnergyTrend 2013
As car manufacturers gradually reach a consensus in launching such vehicles, related peripheral industries may also bring the entire PEMFC industrial supply chain to the next stage. The commercialization stage is expected to take place in 2015, and basic components required for commercialization including the reservoir body tank, aerated joint, and gas production logistics are also displayed in this exposition. (Fig. 4)
Fig. 4
Source: EnergyTrend 2013
Current domestic fuel cells include PEMFC and SOFC. The power output efficiency of SOFC could be up to 40%-45%, which is higher than that of PEMFC (37%-42%). The supply chain of related components are becoming more complete and diversified, thus SOFC will be more popular than PEMFC in the domestic fuel cell market. (Fig. 5)
Statistics showed that in 2012, 20,000 domestic energy storage systems were sold in the Japanese market with an average price of 2,000,000JPY per unit and a 20% government subsidy. Therefore, it has received good market response since its launch in 2009. Subsidy will be gradually cut each year and be terminated in 2015.
Fig. 5 Comparison of the specifications and characteristics of domestic fuel cells
Source: EnergyTrend 2013
According to TrendForce, Taiwanese manufacturers have also drawn considerable attention in this fuel cell exposition. HEPHAS, for instance, introduced a thermal module (Hot Box) that is crucial to SOFC. Suitable for 3kW- 5kW SOFC systems, the hotbox composed of the exchanger, preheater, and reformer could supply a better solution for the system. The target markets are thermoelectric products in large buildings, hospitals, and small offices. Kori introduced 1kW-3kW converters in addition to the 25kW system commissioned by Bloom Energy, with conversion efficiency up to 70%. Eco-Energy displayed 1kW power generation systems and PEMFC 200 and 800 cell stacks with service life up to 4000 hours. Ce Tech displayed diffusion layers and carbon electrode materials for fuel cells, with thickness ranging from 240 to 6500. (Fig. 6)
Fig. 6 Taiwanese fuel cell exhibitors
Source: EnergyTrend
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