Fuel cells convert electrical energy sourced from chemical energy, through an electromechanical reaction with oxygen or other oxidizing agents. Primarily, a fuel cell functions as a battery, but is different in the way that in a fuel cell, fuel is supplied from an external source and fuel is converted to electricity without any involvement of a burning process. The demand for alternative energy sources is growing at a global level, which in turn propels the development of associated products.
The first commercial application of fuel cells happened with NASA’s space programs. Fuel cells were used for application in probes, satellites and space capsules. Generally, fuel cells utilize oxygen and hydrogen during the electrochemical reaction process and generate electricity, heat and water. These cells are used where continuous flow of electricity is required. The cells provide continuous flow of electricity as long as source fuel is supplied. As fuel cells are carbon-free due to their non-burning nature, environmental norms support the development of this market.
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At a global level, various fuel cell design modifications are available. This includes solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC), proton exchange membrane (PEM), molten carbonate fuel cell (MCFC) and a few others. Furthermore, the fuel cell market can be categorized on the basis of source type as hydrogen powered, methanol powered, biogas powered, natural gas powered and hydrocarbons powered. Fuel cell technology finds application in stationary power, portable power and transportation power, and specialty vehicles, fuel cell electric vehicles, auxiliary power units and material handling equipments. Fuel cell technology has become one of the dominant technologies in the power generation industry owing to its carbon-free, non-burning nature and safe energy source.
Rising environmental concerns along with stringent regulations, especially in North America and Europe to reduce carbon emission, is likely to fuel the demand for fuel cell systems over the forecast period. Furthermore, various other factors such as consistently declining fuel cell cost due to technological advancement and uncertainty of the source of fuel cell are likely to spur growth of the fuel cell market.. Such factors limit the application of fuel cells to a narrower spectrum. Depletion of global oil and gas reserves coupled with the demand for clean energy are fuelling the global fuel cell market. Moreover, companies and governments worldwide promote the shift in focus towards renewable energy generation options.
In the past few years, fuel cell market has witnessed different levels of developments, especially occurring in North American and European countries. FMI also analyzed MEA, Latin America and Asia Pacific as potential markets for the fuel cell technology. In addition, Asia Pacific has become hub for consumer electronics; where electronic goods are produced at relatively lesser cost. Fuel cell market is likely to take advantage of such factors and is expected to witness increment in the penetration in Asia Pacific.
Institutional organizations such as Sandia National Laboratories and the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHV) are constantly conducting extensive research in order to improve the efficiency of fuel cells. Key players (manufacturers) in the industry adopt strategies such alliances and partnerships to expand their product lines. Furthermore, strategic alliances are helping market players to penetrate into relatively newer application areas. Fuel cell manufacturers are also involved in enhancement of product offerings. For example, Ballard Power Systems, Inc. and Plug Power, Inc. signed an agreement to supply fuel cell stacks to Plug Power, Inc. for three years to be used in forklift trucks. Fuel cell manufacturers are also involved in the operational expansion through the setting up of new plants. Recently, Daimler AG and The Linde Group entered into strategic alliance to build hydrogen fuelling stations in Germany. Such initiatives are helpful to commercialize fuel cell application in the transportation sector. Furthermore, fuel cell-powered vehicles require hydrogen filling stations, and with such initiatives, it is possible to commercialize fuel cell-powered automobiles.
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Dominant market participants in the fuel cell market are Toshiba Corporation, Panasonic Corporation, Hydrogenics Corporation, Kyocera, AFC Energy, Ballard Power Systems, Inc., Ceres Power Holdings PLC, Aisin Seiki Co. Ltd., Ceramic Fuel Cells Limited and Doosan Corporation.