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  1. 1. FUEL CELL TODAY Opening doors to fuel cell commercialisation Event Report: Fuel Cell Early Markets 2007 – Policy, Finance, Applications Brussels, Marriott Hotel, 11th-12th June 2007 Dr. Mike Hugh, Dr. Jonathan Butler, Fuel Cell Today – June 2007 Introduction The Fuel Cell Early Markets 2007 conference is the first of what, it is strongly to be hoped, will become a fixture in the fuel cell events calendar. This two-day conference was organised and managed by Intertech Pira and Core Technology Ventures. This was a conference that for the first time, in our experience, brought together at the same event members of the mainstream financial community, government officials/regulators the fuel cell industry and, very unusually, some 1
  2. 2. major fuel cell end-users. It was chaired by Phil Doran of Core Tec who was joined at various points by Tim Yeo MP, Allan Lloyd, former chairman of the California EPA and the California Air Resources Board and Nick Owen of Ricardo, who is also the coordinator of the 3-year EU-financed Road2HyCom Project. The emphasis of this conference was on presenting the viewpoints of manufacturers, end users and financial investors rather than the standard company pitches, the majority of fuel cell conferences at the moment. In this sense, it is a logical progression from what has gone before. For years fuel cell conferences have been highly academic and technical in nature, reflecting the majority of the work going on in the sector at the time. More recently, as product development nears commercial markets, the emphasis has been on promoting business-to-business relationships – usually in the form of 10 minute company profiles, pre-arranged meetings in business suites etc. The organisers of this event were keen to bring all of the key stakeholders together in order that they begin the increasingly important exercise of understanding each others needs and limitations. In the light of a recent spate of fuel cell company stock market flotations, this event was not only timely but also evidence (given the number and background of the delegates) that the financial sector may be ready to have another serious look at fuel cells for the first time since the tech crash of 2000/2001. In a conference room divided broadly equally between investment and industry delegates, Core Technology Ventures was well positioned to play the part of go- between and general translator of the varying ‘languages’ at play, not least ‘fuel cell’ and ‘finance’. In all fairness though, the speakers from both sides had clearly taken pains not to alienate the non-conversant element of the audience. The quality of presentations was almost uniformly high. It was also good to see a clear and purposeful structure in the sequence of presentations – starting with political and policy viewpoints from North American and European specific perspectives, moving on to the financial viewpoint, to fuel cell manufacturers, and finally end-users. In terms of delegate numbers, there were around 70 people attending. 2
  3. 3. Day 1 Finance and policy Phil Doran of Core Technology Ventures opened the conference by underlining the conference goals (i.e. to focus on finance and end-user perspectives rather than those of the fuel cell industry). As a backdrop, he presented the assertion that funding for the commercialisation of fuel cells products will come not from government (as is commonly assumed), but from private financing organisations. This opinion became something of a constant refrain over the course of the two days, and was cited by numerous speakers; besides being a justification for the conference, it served also to remind delegates of the importance of the matter in hand to all present. Fuel cell companies can raise money from private finance and not be entirely dependent upon government funding streams. In turn, private finance can make profits from fuel cell companies. The keynote speech was given by Tim Yeo, UK Member of Parliament and Chairman of the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee. His upbeat presentation focussed on the need for greater investment in “clean tech” (a catch-all term for ‘low carbon’ technologies into which fuel cells are usually bundled) in the light of climate change, and (more specifically) in the light of the UK Treasury’s landmark Stern Report. He went on to say that climate change mitigation will be brought about by widespread social pressures as well as official legislation, in much the same way that drink- driving has been stigmatised by society at large. Furthermore, there are genuine economic incentives for governments and the private sector to invest in clean-tech, as the cost of late intervention will certainly and vastly exceed those of early spending. Tim Yeo has been involved in environmental issues in the UK parliament for many years and also has a background in the financial sector, so he was a good choice for keynote speaker given the nature of the audience. Bob Rose of the US Fuel Cell Council then gave an overview of current and prospective fuel cell policy in the US. Energy dynamics in the US are driven largely by gasoline price fluctuations, but increasingly there is evidence of a fundamental acceptance of climate change. By way of example, the highly popular Weather Channel has a regular slot looking at the issue, which of course does more to influence public opinion than do Congressional debates. The insurance industry has 3
  4. 4. raised its premiums, bringing home to consumers the realities of climate change in a very direct and quantifiable way. Bob ran through the various planks of US federal fuel cell schemes, and also outlined prominent (and highly important) State-level initiatives. Some headline figures: 48 States plus Washington DC have official hydrogen and fuel cell strategies. 14 States plus DC have hydrogen fuelling stations (including California, which has 24), and 14 States have hydrogen and fuel cell roadmaps. Dr Klaus Bonhoff of DaimlerChrysler was up next to give an overview of European Union hydrogen and fuel cell policies and priorities. His presentation was rather more general in nature, compared to the previous US perspective, but he did go into specifics concerning the European Commission’s Implementation Plan and the proposed Joint Technology Initiative (JTI), an equity vehicle and joint venture between the European Union, Member States and Industry. Dr Andeas Ziolek of the North Rhine-Westphalia Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Network (FCHN NRW) presented his region’s deep and well-known involvement with the fuel cell industry. NRW is a heavily industrialised region of some 18m people. It consumes 40% of all electricity usage in Germany and provides 33% of the country’s electricity generation, based mainly on coal. Clearly energy, and also the environment, are major concerns for NRW, and the State has long since identified fuel cells and hydrogen as an important part of its energy security strategy. The FCHN NRW was established in 2000 and today has over 300 members from industry, academia and various stakeholder groups. It is a not-for-profit organisation funded by the Government of NRW, and much of its work is centred around the fact that NRW is home to a huge cluster of industrial by-product H2 sources. Since 2000 FCHN has overseen the disbursement of over €124m in over 65 projects, €70m of which has come from the state. NRW has a clear strategy for promoting the deployment of fuel cells, based around key factors such as cost, technology, infrastructure and financing, and Dr Ziolek gave the FCHN NRW’s assessment and conclusions for each one. Finally, detailed overviews of NRW’s approach to two example early fuel cell markets were given – for materials handling and uninterruptible power supply (UPS). The clarity of quantitative targets and timelines that NRW has adopted is reminiscent of the Japanese government’s approach to fuel cell development planning. This approach carries political risk (non- 4
  5. 5. delivery is identifiable and attributable), but you are left with the feeling that, as with the case of Japan, NRW possesses the will to meet its various targets and is ready to pay the bill so that this might happen. Indeed, the state’s fuel cell programs have remained unaffected by the change in government from a centre-left to a centre- right administration. Dr. Ziolek’s was a fascinating presentation of how local governments can successfully work with industry to generate tangible achievements above and beyond those inspired by centralised government. In line with the flavour of the conference, the importance of industry and financial services participation in NRW’s success was stressed. Starting the financing section of the conference, Mats Gunnarsson of the European Investment Bank (EIB), which is owned by the 27 EU member states, gave a presentation entitled “Financing for the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Sector”. One thing to take away from the EIB presentations is the fact that the institution is interested almost exclusively in large projects. Most EIB loans are for over €25m, to cover up to 50% of project costs, though some smaller loans of down to €7.5m are available to start-ups and other smaller concerns. Loan tenors are usually in the region of 10-20 years, and recipients must pass a thorough assessment by the EIB which investigates a range of criteria such as potential returns, technical viability, financial viability, adequate security etc. The EIB has three mechanisms by which it lends, including bank intermediated loans (whereby credit risk is borne by the recipient company’s bank), bank guaranteed loans (whereby risk is borne by a guarantor), and direct loans (whereby risk is shared between the EIB and other banks). Historically, in the area of hydrogen and fuel cells the EIB has funded the development of research infrastructure and science parks, (large) corporate research (recipients include companies such as BMW, Bosch and Volvo), and some university research. The plans for EIB funding in the future, apparently, are direct loans to “bankable” fuel cell companies, venture capital activities, and risk sharing global loans. One can’t help wondering, outside of large-scale projects undertaken by large, well-resourced companies, about the genuine usefulness to many fuel cell companies of the EIB’s large-scale and risk-averse approach. Considering that the majority of fuel cell companies are small, it will be an uphill task for many to find bankable projects in excess of €15m to meet the EIB’s minimum loan of €7.5m. The companies which might be in a good position to find this level of funding, or indeed to pass the EIB’s “bankability” criteria, are likely to be those large concerns which 5
  6. 6. are least in need of a loan in the first place – such as BMW, Bosch and Volvo. This was an interesting presentation though, which perhaps gave some of the fuel cell industry representatives in the room something to aspire to. From the authors’ perspective as signed up members of the fuel cell community, the final two presentations of the day were the highlights of the conference: Michael Lacey-Solymar of Investec presented the corporate finance view of fuel cell companies as an investment proposition, before John Dean gave an equity investor’s view. Investec is a bank with some €6bn in investments, with global operations and a strong focus on the renewables sector. It has been involved with the fuel cell industry since 2005 and made its first acquisition in July 2006 – which was well- known US PEM developer IdaTech. Michael pointed out that fuel cell companies are the first loss-making concerns that Investec has invested in. Put simply, the decision to invest has been based on the strongly-held premise that mass fuel cell markets are a question of “when, not if”. Other key observations he made were that equity capital markets were becoming familiar with the technologies (this was echoed in the following presentation), and that the current, relatively modest, tech boom was not a bubble but something built on more sober assessments of technology capability and market readiness. Concerning the sources of investment money for fuel cell markets, although traditionally private funding has taken the form of ventures (Angels, funds etc.), this is increasingly difficult. More and more companies are choosing to float, and this has given rise to the AIM (London’s Alternative Investment Market) phenomenon, which has largely taken the place of traditional VC funding. Michael suggested, however, that the rush to AIM shows signs of drying up. No matter what the current fad is, the good news for fuel cell companies is that the ‘universe’ of fuel cell investors is expanding. Fuel cell companies will still, however, have to meet key traditional investment criteria: they should be focussed on development rather than research, and the closer a company is to commercialising a product the more likely it is to attract investment. 6
  7. 7. Michael made a number of other investment observations. Mergers and acquisitions have been slow in the industry, but there is increasing evidence that this is now changing (recent examples include NIC-NEP and Plug Power, and Plug Power and Cellex). This has led to a growing trend for a number of technologies being developed under the same roof. There is as yet not much evidence of a combination of fuel cells and renewable technologies being developed in the same stable, but this might well change. Finally, cash (rather than share purchasing) is king in terms of investment – fuel cell companies need access to liquidity at relatively short notice in order to expand, build fabrication plants etc. In terms of valuation methodologies, fuel cell companies present a particularly difficult set of challenges to potential investors: there are no real earnings, and IP, commonly the most valuable asset early stage developers have, is notoriously difficult to value. This leaves the Discounted Cash Flow valuation model as the most common tool available to investors, and it has its own significant downsides as a decision making tool. Finally, there are few common standards in the industry, which raises the possibility that potential investment targets are on the wrong technological ‘path’. So why touch the sector at all? Having spent some time explaining the many pitfalls associated with fuel cell investing, Michael concluded his presentation on a remarkably upbeat note. High risk creates opportunities for those willing to gamble. Furthermore, various ‘macro factors’ (e.g. legislative directions, public sentiment, energy economics etc.) are generally supportive. Reliability issues must still be ironed out, but overall, ‘…there are reasons to be cheerful!’ John Dean of Jefferies International presented the equity investor’s view of the fuel cell proposition, which took a similar down-then-up trajectory to that of the corporate financier’s view preceding it. Fuel cell companies do not make for ‘ordinary’ equity investments – the potential outcome is potentially binary in that they might meet with either great success or with catastrophic failure, with no happy medium. Furthermore, some listings and investments have been too early, when technology solutions are far from proven, the competitive landscape of fuel cell markets still ill-defined, and where profit streams are long-dated. Finally, compounding these problems (and in agreement with the previous presentation) comparative valuations can be misleading. 7
  8. 8. However, the industry now has a number of factors acting in its favour. The macro- economics of clean tech are improving, bolstered by contemporary factors such as concerns over security of supply, changing environmental sensibilities, and new application markets. The appetite of investors is increasing; there is greater general awareness of the technologies and their potential, and there is also increasing interest from non-specialist investors. This has led to a significant expansion of available investments, with many more listed companies for investors to choose from. John finished with some additional investment pre-requisites to those listed by Michael Lacey-Solymar. Fuel cell companies must have hard-nosed, pragmatic management and a robust business model incorporating a realistic manufacturing strategy which acknowledges potential risks as well as opportunities. It must have strong and (importantly) defendable IP. Finally, there must be evidence of real 3rd party risk sharing. The final two presentations of Day 1 brought a great deal of clarity to what to fuel cell industry ears are largely arcane topics. They also provided a good deal of practical advice for investors and companies seeking investment alike. Fascinating stuff, and the interest and debate which they provoked in the audience suggests that the knowledge and pragmatism which financiers can bring to the industry is widely welcomed. The investor’s assessment of the industry, while ultimately positive, was by no means entirely so, and that somehow lent it a greater degree of credibility. This was the end of the presentations for Day 1, which was followed by the ubiquitous networking session over drinks. Again, the division of backgrounds of delegates made this an interesting place to be. A highly successful first half of the conference. 8
  9. 9. Day 2 Industry and end users Dr Alan Lloyd, President of the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), kicked off Day 2 with a keynote presentation on the view of a former regulator. Alan is the former chairman of the California Air Resources Board and previously worked at the California Environmental Protection Agency. He has a unique perspective on government environmental regulation, having been at the forefront when California introduced its Zero Emissions Vehicles regulations in the early 1990s. Alan has seen (and indeed prompted) the improvement in vehicle tailpipe emissions over the past few decades - the average new car is now 99.6% cleaner than a 1970s car. Fuel cell vehicles (zero emission at point of use) are clearly a technology that regulators are keen to promote, however, fuel cell cars are largely limited to demonstration projects and there are few notable success stories for early automotive market entry. Alan posed the question whether government financial and regulatory support is needed to bridge the gap between demonstration and commercialisation, notwithstanding the large contribution to be made by private financing organisations, as emphasised by speakers on Day 1. He concluded that new regulations which primarily target climate change and energy security/diversity may ultimately favour early market adoption of fuel cells. The current political emphasis on biofuels in many countries may have co-benefits for fuel cells - biofuels can be used as a feedstock for fuel cells either directly or after reforming into hydrogen. What is often seen as competing technology, for instance battery hybrid vehicles, will eventually be adopted alongside 9
  10. 10. fuel cell technology. Alan concluded that fuel cell vehicles can and will be adopted within the existing regulatory framework, and the current focus on energy diversity may favour fuel cells alongside other ‘competing technology’. Alan also speculated that China, with its huge urban air pollution problems, could be a potential early adopter of fuel cell technology if the government begins to address the problem through regulation. Continuing the session’s theme of early markets in transport, Henri Winnard of Intelligent Energy laid out four key drivers in the early adoption of fuel cells for transport applications: security of energy supply, economics, environmental concerns and infrastructure. Thinking about infrastructure; many energy companies are currently ‘sweating’ their assets (particularly refuelling assets), rather than replacing them: there is currently a good opportunity for hydrogen infrastructure to be brought in alongside conventional infrastructure, rather than replacing it completely. GM estimates that $12 bn investment will be required to introduce hydrogen infrastructure to the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. This is a relatively modest figure when it is considered that BP alone spends $13 bn on capital expenditure each year. It is not difficult to imagine a concerted effort by oil majors to add hydrogen to their existing refuelling infrastructure might overcome the ‘chicken and egg’ problem of supply and demand of hydrogen fuel. Turning to other drivers and challenges, Henri emphasised the need for flexible business plans. He suggested that ‘competing’ technologies can be potentially complementary – for instance battery manufacturers should be the best friend, rather than the enemy, of fuel cell manufacturers as fuel cell cars may initially contain hybrid battery-fuel cell drivetrains (just like GM’s recently unveiled Chevy Volt). Masterflex’s Stefan Schulte gave an overview of the company’s fuel cell powered ‘cargo bikes’. The bikes are designed to fill the gap between transport on foot and by car – the sort of vehicle one would use to pick up a crate of beer from a nearby shop, for instance. Legally, the vehicle is classed as a bike as the hydrogen fuelled PEM system is only used to power the wheels when the rider is pedalling. The FC unit in the bike is guaranteed for 3,000 hours and has been trialled by Deutsche Telekom, among others, who were to give their impression as a customer in the last session of the day. 10
  11. 11. PEM fuel cell manufacturer Ballard has very specific transport market penetration goals, as described by MD Geoff Budd. Ballard develops fuel cell stacks and sells them to systems integrators who have experience in particular markets. It has had a number of successes in partnering with other companies to sell in specific markets, for instance the urban bus market, light duty vehicles, and, increasingly, cars. An early market that Ballard is actively pursuing at present, together with partners, is materials handling vehicles (forklifts, baggage handling carts etc.). FC powered materials handling vehicles have several advantages over conventional battery powered vehicles – for instance no loss of operations productivity while charging, no slowdown as the battery discharges and near-silent and zero-emission operation at point of use. A session on early market transport applications of fuel cells would not be complete without a detailed look at hydrogen supply, and Marinus van Driel from HyGear was on hand to give an analysis of fuelling vehicle fleets from a single on-site hydrogen supply. Since 2002, HyGear has been manufacturing reforming plant capable of producing hydrogen using an advanced reformer from methane and carbon monoxide. Through its patented QCYCLE technology, HyGear’s plant is also capable of producing extremely pure hydrogen from biomass and biogas. The steam reforming plant is small enough to fit on a forklift truck and is eminently transportable. Onsite hydrogen generation has several advantages, for instance in lowering the sunk capital profile of hydrogen refuelling by eliminating the need for compression and trucking as well as improving security of supply; safety and environmental impact (by reducing trucking) as well as making it possible to produce hydrogen from biofuels and wastes. Ten prototype systems are currently being tested and seven systems have been contracted and are currently undergoing testing. Nick Owen, Co-ordinator of Roads2HyCom, and Senior Manager at Ricardo, identified key success factors in the adoption of new energy sources, including technology, infrastructure, attractive early markets and informed government and public. Even when these key factors are in place, transitions in energy technology can be slow – it was over 200 years from the invention of Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine to the demise of the last sailing ship trading between Australia and Europe. Roads2Hy, a 3- year EU Framework Programme 6 project, aims to bring together mapping and analysis of R&D, infrastructure and communities to develop strategic 11
  12. 12. recommendations. At present, the hydrogen and fuel cell technology development landscape is fairly fragmented with many small players and a few larger ones. As a result, there is a relative lack of investment resources. The drivers that might bring about more rapid uptake of fuel cells and/or hydrogen technology are major breakthroughs in cost reduction or in technology, draconian measures by governments (e.g. a vast increase in the tax duty on conventional fuel); or firm encouragement by governments to adopt more efficient technologies – an approach currently favoured by the EU. The overall outlook by Roads2Hy is that ‘premium’ markets (military, luxury cars, yachts) will be important early adopters of fuel cells, followed by highly sweated assets such as combined heat and power units and portable backup power, and also small portable devices. Important synergies between technologies may aid this uptake – just as battery technology in laptops paved the way for the batteries in hybrid cars. UTC Power’s PureCell fuel cell system was said by Richard Bordy, UTC’s VP for International Business Development, to be commercially proven and poised for growth. UTC’s history seems to bear this out – their fuel cells powered the Apollo missions and are currently in use on the International Space Station. They are also in use around the world on ships, submarines, buses, and are used by some of the world’s biggest automakers, e.g. Nissan, BMW and Hyundai. The company’s PureCell 200 PAFC stationary unit has been deployed in 300 locations worldwide, including in the Central Park Police Station (the only place to keep the lights on during New York’s 2003 blackout). UTC is to introduce a 400 kW fuel cell stack in 2009 which is designed to have twice the life (10 years) of the PureCell 200 which it will replace. As well as having a high power output, it has a higher efficiency than the PureCell 200 and a lower cost (both at the outset and over the life cycle). At 2006 prices, the PureCell 400 is said to be cost competitive with around half of the US grid, with the economics improving as US electricity prices rise. One of the eagerly anticipated sessions in the conference were the talks by early market users. As Andreas Ballhausen, General Manager of CHP Systems at EWE, a German gas and electricity utility, told the audience if you want to know the truth about fuel cell technologies, talk to the customers who use them. EWE have been fitting residential fuel cell systems in northwest Germany since 1998. The company has joined up with scientists and developed a vision for energy supply in the future, which involves energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewables. Fuel cells are 12
  13. 13. an important component of this vision, as part of efficient systems for grid power supply and combined heat and power for homes. EWE has installed 47 units in north west Germany, although only 6 units are currently in operation. These are small stationary units running directly on natural gas including Hexis’ and Ceramic Fuel Cells Limited’s SOFC units as well as Baxi Innotech’s PEMFCs. EWE has a demonstration and testing scheme whereby it will offer to replace an existing domestic heating system, provide help with financing, installation, operation and maintenance. Indeed, the company has recently trained 12 plumbers to install and maintain fuel cells, and the plumbers are said to have learned the skill of fuel cell installation and maintenance without difficulty. Some practical lessons that have been learned by EWE along the way are that it is often difficult to carry the heavy fuel cells into the basement of homes, where they are mostly installed, and there have also been problems with situating flue exhausts, of which two are mandated in each property in Germany. Also, there have been some issues with efficiency, CO2 savings and quality. Their conclusion was that a market-ready product is unlikely to be ready before 2012. On the up side, the pilot scheme is said to be over-subscribed by potential users, and the experiences of current users has generally been positive. Claudia Schwab of Deutsche Telekom (DT) gave a frank account of DT’s experiences of a variety of stationary and transport fuel cell systems. DT has been testing Cargo Bikes (made by MasterFlex, who had presented earlier in the day) for telecom maintenance teams. These were used mainly during the World Cup 2006 and amid wide publicity. Whilst there were some problems with drivetrains, these were generally thought to be positive learning experiences. Another system trailed during the World Cup was a methanol fuelled portable PEMFC used to provide a power supply for temporary public telecoms. There were numerous barriers to successful adoption, including a lack of regulatory approval and system certifications, limited run time (only 48 hours), and the lack of regulatory approval for the use of a hazardous substance (methanol) in a public area. All of this meant that the trial in North Rhine Westphalia was discontinued after only a few days. These challenges emphasise the need for clear regulatory guidelines for new fuel cell technologies and continued testing in a variety of environments. Despite their experiences with fuel cells, which, it has to be said, were largely negative, DT remains confident in the technology and are committed to pursuing it further. More successful has been the testing of stationary 5 kW PEM fuel cell systems used as backup power supplies for telecoms infrastructure and 2 SOFC used as a permanent power supply at the 2006 13
  14. 14. World Cup. In May this year, a HotModule SOFC system was installed at DT’s T- systems computer centre in Munich and it was recently announced that the system is soon to run on biomethane. Telecoms remain a potentially important early market for stationary and portable power. Continued testing by customers and, more importantly, effective feedback to the fuel cell community is essential. As with the financial presentations, the end-user perspectives were fascinating in that although they highlighted a number of problems still to be overcome by fuel cell technologies, they remained buoyant about their potential and will continue to invest. These assessments, coming from groups which owe no direct allegiance to the fuel cell industry, have perhaps a greater degree of credibility than claims originating from inside the industry. The final presentation by Siegried Suchanek of Rittal on fuel cell strategy and applications for early markets, and the conference wrap-up session by the panel was unfortunately missed due to the necessity to catch a train. However, we saw enough to conclude that this conference offers something genuinely new to the fuel cell industry, due largely because of the deliberate choice of key stakeholders – namely the financial sector, policy makers and end-users. The presentations were more dispassionate and less rose-tinted than those which are generally prevalent at fuel cell industry only events, and they were more interesting for it. We hope, and the fuel cell industry should hope, that this conference becomes a regular fixture. About the Authors Dr. Mike Hugh works as a Project Executive for Fuel Cell Today. His main areas of interest are fuel cell markets in the Far East, and fuel cell companies as investment propositions for the financial sector. Mike can be contacted via Dr. Jonathan Butler works as a Market Analyst for Fuel Cell Today. His main areas of interest are fuel cell markets in Europe, and policy and legislative drivers for their development. Jonathan can be contacted via 14
  15. 15. (Note on the information contained in this report: All requests for reproduction of the information contained in this report, which is copyright of Fuel Cell Today, are treated individually and must be directed to the Editor of Fuel Cell Today at 15