Thursday, February 25, 2010

2.8M fuel-cell vehicles will hit the road by 2020



Fuel cells have catapulted into the public spotlight this week following the 60 Minutes debut of Bloom Energy’s powerful Bloom Box fuel cell. But before all the talk of these devices powering buildings and neighborhoods, there was buzz about hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

Today, Pike Research revisited the topic, issuing a report that predicts 2.8 million fuel-cell vehicles will be sold over the next decade — amounting to a $23.9 billion market.

Several major automakers have recently announced intentions to get fuel-cell models into showrooms by 2015 — Daimler (its Mercedes Benz F-Cell is pictured above), Toyota (which just expanded its R&D program last month) and Honda chief among them. Pike bases its predictions on these goals becoming a reality, also assuming that fuel-cell powered vehicles will first be integrated into large commercial fleets. And the ranks of those released will also include trucks, vans and buses — not just sedans.

Interestingly, the U.S. will not be leading this charge, according to Pike. This makes sense, as most American car makers, like General Motors and Ford, have seemed more interested in developing electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles (although they claim to have active hydrogen programs as well). About 37 percent of the fuel-cell vehicles sold by 2020 will be in Western Europe, 36 percent will be in the Asia-pacific region, and just 25 percent will be in North America, the report says.

The roll out of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles will depend largely on investments made in the infrastructure needed to support them. Electric cars face the same problem: sales can’t really take off until fueling stations are built, but few people and firms are willing to take a chance on fueling stations until there is proven consumer interest in electric cars. Will there be enough companies and investors willing to build costly hydrogen fuel pumps before they have customers?

The hydrogen fueling problem hasn’t garnered as much attention as electrical charging stations. Growing companies like Coulomb Technologies and Better Place are both taking on the latter, raising massive amounts of capital to get stations built and to lower associated costs.

So far, only one equivalent startup has popped up in the hydrogen fuel-cell space. Called SunHydro, it plans to harness solar power to generate hydrogen fuel, which can then be pumped into tanks just like gasoline. Its first move will be to dot east-coast highways with stations that cost $3 million a pop — but it hasn’t disclosed the private investors making this possible.

It will be interesting to see which companies jump ahead in the burgeoning hydrogen fuel-cell market first. Toyota is a good bet, having already established its green reputation with the Prius (even though it’s been having some legal troubles with its 2010 model). It also has a solid roll out strategy, planning to get 100 of its hydrogen vehicles into active fleets by 2013 before taking the car to the mass market in 2015.

source: venturebeat