Fuel cells are electro-chemical devices that transform the chemical energy into heat and electricity by the oxidation of fuel (hydrogen, natural gas and methanol) contained in the fuel cell. The fuel cells usually comprises electrodes and electrolytes between which the oxidation reaction takes place. Electrolytes used in fuel cells are materials that contain many ions (atoms or molecules that have a net electrical charge), making it easy for an electric current to flow through them. Basic fuel cell components include electrodes, membranes, catalysts, polymers, and ceramics. These components are procured from the suppliers along with the components such as valves subsystem, membrane electrode assembly (MEA), which are then forwarded to the system integrators. Catalysts (platinum, nickel, and conductive ceramics) are used to speed up the reaction at the electrodes.
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The only byproducts are water and a small amount of nitrous oxide due to which fuel cells are eco-friendly, safe, and secure to use. Fuel cells are not thermal energy based, they generate power using hydrogen as a basic ingredient. The heat and electricity generated from fuel cells is utilized in various industries for different applications such as stationary, transportation, and portable. Fuel cells involve hydrogen and other gases as one of the basic components for generating power. Hydrocarbon fuels such as methanol, ethanol are also used in extracting hydrogen during reformation procedure. This procedure leads to carbon dioxide emissions up to a certain extent, however, highly efficient plants release negligible amounts of carbon dioxide.
Research and development activities in demonstration and adoption of improved and efficient fuel cell technology would reduce carbon dioxide emissions and enhance the efficiency of power delivered. Rapid population growth, high dependency on fossil fuels, increasing electricity demand, strict government regulations to minimize carbon emissions, and high awareness in different countries about clean energy usage are the main drivers for the fuel cells market.
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Fuel cells are emerging technologies, which are currently utilized as a source of heat and electricity in buildings and the commercial sector. The use of fuel cells in applications such as stationary, portable, and transport is expected to increase significantly throughout the forecast period as even more stringent environmental legislation are enforced. Currently, stationary applications of fuel cells, such as in CHP and backup power systems, dominates the market for fuel cells. Portable applications mainly include consumer electronics such as laptops, tablets, mobiles, and cameras. The use of fuel cells in the transportation sector is moderate. However, constant research and development activities going on by different governments and companies to integrate efficient fuel cell system in vehicles such as buses, trucks, cars etc. would boost the demand for fuel cells in transportation sector in the next few years.
The fuel cells market has been segmented in terms of type, application and geography. By type, the fuel cell market has been segmented into proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC), direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC), solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC), and others. By Application, the market has been segmented into stationary, portable, and transport. By type, proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC) held the largest share (62.42%) of the market in 2015. By application, stationary held the largest share (64.82%) for the market in 2015.
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Growth in the fuel cells market is driven by the need for adoption of cleaner fuel sources, high electricity demand, excess depletion of fossil fuels and stringent regulatory norms to minimize carbon emissions. Rapid population growth followed by high electricity demand has resulted in a paradigm shift towards alternate sources of electricity generation such as fuel cells. Rapid rise in the industrial application of hydrogen gas is expected to boost the demand for fuel cells globally. However, distribution and transportation challenges associated with hydrogen coupled with the high cost of fuel used in fuel cells such as hydrogen or other gas as against fossil fuels may restrain growth of the fuel cells market. Key players in the fuel cells market include AFC Energy PLC, Ballard Power Systems Inc., Doosan Fuel Cell America, Inc., FuelCell Energy, Inc., Hydrogenics Corporation, Nedstack Fuel Cell Technology B.V., Plug Power, Inc., Panasonic Corporation, SFC Energy AG, and Toshiba Corporation.
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