Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Portable Fuel Cell Unit Shipments to Top 7 Million Annually by 2017

Fuel cells are gaining momentum as a source of clean and reliable power for a host of portable device applications including electronics, battery chargers, remote monitoring, and military applications. In recent years, fuel cell manufacturers and electronics companies and distributors have sought to demonstrate their respective technologies across these new applications in preparation for large-scale commercialization. While key challenges still remain for the industry, most notably issues related to cost and technology standards, a new report from Pike Research forecasts that the current period of product development will lead to commercialization for portable fuel cells at an increasingly larger scale, beginning in the 2015 timeframe. The cleantech market intelligence firm forecasts that, by 2017, annual unit shipments for portable fuel cells will reach 7 million per year.

“Fuel cell technologies have strong potential advantages over conventional solutions such as batteries, diesel generators, and solar-powered systems,” says research analyst Euan Sadden. “Power generation from fuel cells is quiet, can provide extended runtime, produces fewer emissions than conventional fossil fuels, and can operate independent of weather conditions.”

However, despite these advantages, says Sadden, large barriers remain with respect to the capacity of the fuel cell supply chain and associated manufacturing costs. Adopting universal industry standards for components and systems will help reduce these costs in the coming years, but a significant amount of work remains for that goal to be realized. Additionally, Sadden says that another critical factor will be the increased focus among Japanese and Korean electronics companies in boosting manufacturing capacity and integrating fuel cell technologies into their products.

Pike Research’s analysis indicates that external battery chargers are a key area of market opportunity for portable fuel cells, and the firm anticipates that this category will lead in terms of unit shipments over the next several years. In addition, new niche markets such as environmental remote monitoring have also been recognized as promising areas for fuel cells, which can offer substantial benefits compared to generators and battery banks. Military man-portable applications such as remote monitoring/sensing and mobile soldier power remain a strong area of focus for fuel cell developers, as well, and are expected to be the largest revenue category for portable fuel cells given the high average cost per unit. The consumer electronics market, though it has enormous long-term potential, is not expected to be a significant percentage of total portable fuel cell shipments between now and 2017.

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