Proton exchange membrane fuel cells: what challenges?

This data-file reviews fifty patents into proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs), filed by leading companies in the space in 2020, in order to understand the key challenges the industry is striving to overcome.

The key focus areas are controlling the temperature, humidity and longevity of hydrogen fuel cells. But unfortunately, we find over half of the proposed solutions are likely to increase end costs.

We remain cautious on the practicalities and the economics of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (2x most costly than conventional vehicles per km, note here) and hydrogen fuel cells for power generation (10x more costly, note here).

Solid oxide fuel cells: what challenges?

This data-file reviews fifty patents into solid oxide fuel cells, filed by leading companies in the space in 2020, in order to understand the key challenges the industry is striving to overcome.

The key focus areas are improving the longevity and efficiency of SOFCs. But unfortunately, we find many of the proposed solutions are likely to increase end costs.

Economics of SOFCs could eventually become very exciting for low-carbon heat and power (model here). But our conclusion from the latest patents is that the technology is not yet on the path to deflate and achieve cost competitiveness in the near-term.

Molten Carbonate Fuel Cells: CCS plus Power? The Economics?

Molten Carbonate Fuel Cells could be extremely promising, generating electrical power from natural gas as an input, while also capturing CO2 from industrial flue gases through an electrochemical process.

We model competitive economics can be achieved, under our base case assumptions, making it possible to retrofit units next to carbon-intensive industrial facilities, while also helping to power them.

Our full model runs off 18 input variables, which you can flex, to stress test your own assumptions.

Fuel Cell Power Project Economics

This data-file models the economics of constructing a new fuel-cell power plant; generating electricity from grey, blue or green hydrogen in a PEMFC, or from natural gas in an SOFC. The work is based on technical papers and past projects around the industry.

A dozen input variables can be flexed in the model, to stress test economic sensitivity to: hydrogen prices, power prices, carbon price, distribution costs, conversion efficiency, capex costs, opex costs, utilization and tax rates.

Indicative inputs, and sensible ranges, are suggested for each of these input variables in the data-file.

Economics continue to look more challenged for hydrogen power, compared with simply decarbonizing or carbon offsetting natural gas power. Economics are closest to commercialist for gas-fired SOFCs, and could be interesting with c50% deflation and greater reliability, particularly as renewables get overbuild.

Fuel Cell Patents: twenty years of progress?

This data-file tabulates the numbers of patents filed into different types of fuel-cells, from 2000-2020, globally and in key geographies: China, Japan, Korea and the US.

Research activity peaked in 2008 and has since fallen by 30%, as Japanese research into Solid Oxide fuel cells and Proton Exchange Membranes both declined by 75%; however China’s research has ascended and comprises 65% of the patent filings from 2019.

In particular, we focus in upon 2,350 patents filed by well-known companies in the fuel cell industry (e.g., Ballard, Bloom, Ceres, Giner, ITM, Plug Power), to evaluate which companies have the most IP in the industry, who has been accelerating and who is being overtaken (chart below).

We also focus in upon Molten Carbonate Fuel Cells, tabulating 120 patents into this reactor design, including descriptions of each patent and a categorization by company.

An overview of different fuel cell types is provided as an introduction to the topic.

Copyright: Thunder Said Energy, 2022.