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Market News

 August 24, 2013
There's way more than just hot air in hydrogen

 B.C. is a world leader in fuel cell technology and automakers are taking notice

A series of major new developments in the Canadian hydrogen and fuel cell sector creates a real opportunity for Canada to stay at the international forefront of this rapidly developing clean energy industry.

Navigant Research recently released data showing worldwide fuel cell sales for the first time exceeded $1 billion in 2012, and more than 28,000 fuel cells were shipped.

Canada, long a leader in fuel cell technology, has scored major victories in the past two years, and is positioned for more

Hydrogenics, an Ontario-based leader in fuel cell and hydrogen related technologies, recently signed its largest contract ever, a $90-million fuel cell propulsion order.

The company has won the majority of new contracts led by the world's largest consumer-owned utility, E.On of Germany, to take off-peak surplus wind energy and convert it to hydrogen, then inject it into gas lines - an ingenious solution to wind overcapacity in non-peak hours, and an ingenious storage solution utilizing existing gas line infrastructure - new power with no new transmission lines.

B.C.-based Ballard Power Systems recently signed a deal with Volkswagen, worth up to $100 million, to help it develop new fuel cell vehicles. And Ballard has recently scored victories in China, selling fuel cells for backup power to China Mobile for their telecom towers, and attracting equity investment from the Chinese firm Azure, into a Ballard subsidiary.

Azure also recently placed an order with Ballard for a 175 kilowatt Clear-GenTM distributed generation system that it plans to deploy in China.

And Azure has invested an initial $1 million as a part of a new program to develop the Chinese fuel cell bus market with Ballard. Already, by the end of this year, 40 Ballard fuel cellpowered buses will be in operation around the world, including 10 new buses going into Aberdeen, Scotland.

BIC, the lighter folks, recently purchased Angstrom Power in Vancouver, and is ramping up its interest in fuel cell production for mobile applications; Atlantic Hydrogen is launching a plant to create hydrogen at a cost comparable with gas and has attracted partners like Emera; Western Hydrogen in Calgary is pursuing large-scale hydrogen production with new technologies.

And a real jewel in the Vancouver area is the world's first automated fuel cell manufacturing plant, opened recently by Mercedes-Benz Canada at a cost in excess of $70 million, with state-of-the-art, custom-designed robotics. The plant currently manufactures fuel cells in Canada that are shipped back to Germany to be included in Mercedes-Benz's new F-Cell cars available in 2015.

The decision for the auto-giant to locate its plant in Burnaby, over Europe, Detroit or California, was a strategic one to capitalize on Greater Vancouver's fuel cell cluster and the required infrastructure available here for such a facility. That's right, Canada has such strong intellectual and manufacturing capabilities in fuel cells that Germany came here to establish its first plant and will ship the product back to Stuttgart to put in cars.

Think they're crazy? Well, Nissan and Ford both recently joined their investment in Vancouver, and Nissan now has nearly 30 engineers and manufacturing experts joining the existing 50 Mercedes hired for the plant.

All in all, between the new plant, an existing venture called AFCC (Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation) and Ballard, there are more than 600 jobs in the Burnaby area alone working on fuel cell automotive research, development and commercialization. You'd be surprised to know the largest Canadian automotive research centre isn't in Oshawa or Windsor - it's in British Columbia.

These new ventures bring worldclass manufacturing, supply chain and technical expertise to Western Canada that we simply haven't had before.

B.C. has the world's longest standing and most innovative fuel cell cluster, the world's largest zero emission bus fleet and a proud history of clean energy innovation in Canada.

New advances, like Hydrogenics' successes in taking off-peak wind and converting it to energy to be stored and moved through the gas grid, have promise in Ontario, Alberta and B.C., and we are world leaders in the technology internationally.

With more than $200 million a year in revenues, and nearly 2,000 clean, high-paying and innovative jobs in the hydrogen and fuel cell sector in Canada, recent developments promise incremental growth, particularly as major automakers start their launch of fuel cell vehicles - with Hyundai starting production of its first 1,000 this year and Toyota's chairman (designer of the Prius) firmly committed to a 2015 model-year launch of commercial fuel cell vehicles.

Eric Denhoffis president & CEO of the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association.