Fuel Cell: On The Verge

Published - Oct 2000| Analyst - Anna Welch Crull| Code - FCB018D
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Report Highlights

  • Fuel cells are one of the most promising technologies for meeting U.S. energy needs well into this century. Unlike power plants that use conventional technologies, fuel cell plants that generate electricity and usable heat can be built in a wide range of sizes - from 200-kW units suitable for powering commercial buildings to 100-mW plants that can add baseload capacity to utility power plants.
  • By 2010, an estimated 130 gW of new generating capacity will be installed in the U.S. In world markets and within a much closer time frame, nearly 550 gW of generating capacity will be added. Fuel cell commercialization opportunities in the U.S. market are focused in several large-scale areas: re-powering, central power plants, industrial generators, and commercial/residential generators.
  • Nonetheless promising are a host of fuel cell applications - virtually anywhere electrical power is a factor. From large-scale power-intensive applications - such as desalination, automotive/transportation, self-contained residential power, emergency back up, to portable products - such as computers, cell phones, flashlights, watches, cameras, music players - fuel cell technology has developed a feasible alternative to traditional power supply.


This study provides an in-depth analysis of the pertinent technical and economic drivers for the budding fuel cell markets as well as for forecasting growth of the industry sectors. Those aspects are detailed with important statistical and analytical information on markets, applications, industry structure, and dynamics, along with technological developments. This report focuses on the five main fuel cell types: alkaline, molten carbonate, phosphoric acid, solid oxide, and the proton exchange membrane (or solid-polymer) fuel cell. The ultimate objective of the study is to reveal the potential growth of the fuel cell industry and to provide the reader with the information needed for investment decisions.


Despite the rapidly expanding array of applications, fuel cell technology development is still limited to a range of materials and methods, as well as manufacturers. With both the technology and the market in nascent states, their complexities are expected to multiply along with increased demand as more sectors prove themselves in application and become financially feasible. With working fuel cell examples such as electric cars demonstrating the validity of industry enthusiasts' hopes, this study has a prime opportunity to comprehensively cover the range of technology and market dynamics while these dynamics are still limited in scale. As a sign of the pace of development of these areas - during the preparation of this study, a technological innovation occurred with the production of zinc aluminum fuel cells, a discovery with possibly major market-changing effects, particularly in price-per-watt and size. The developers claim the advantages could be applied to nearly every major sector of the industry. So far, none of the zinc aluminum cells have reached market, much less carved out a significant niche in the industry. This report notes their possible significance and details their potential technological advantages. The report also covers all the other already established fuel cell technologies as they undergo technical and economic evolution in the process of exploration, testing, and sales.


Research for this report began with an in-depth analysis of technical and literature, a well as a review of the history of the technology. Interviews with industry experts, company representatives, federal government researchers, and university scientists provided the basis for an assessment of the outlook for fuel cell applications. Secondary sources of information included product literature from fuel cell system suppliers, and numerous scientific references, patent searches, and BCC's Fuel Cell Technology News, Battery and EV Technology News, and Membrane & Separation Technology News.

The report makes projections for each market in terms of constant dollars. Historical values are presented for the given year, with focus on the U.S. Overseas activity is also mentioned, putting the U.S. market into global context. Estimates of the fuel cell areas installed in particular application areas were obtained either from surveys done or from estimates of those knowledgeable in the industry. Values that are given for these processes are generally based on the best estimates from those involved in the commercialization of the technology. These values reflect only the current small U.S. sales figures; however, this report makes some reference to the world markets in cases where those markets exert substantial influence on the U.S. market sector. Projections for the 2000 to 2005 time period are given in 1999 constant dollars and represent real growth. Where precise information was not available, a consensus was made using a formulation of reasonable assumptions and estimates based on a baseline obtained from historical data.


The information sources for this study include extensive online research, patent literature, worldwide technical journals and magazines, and interviews with principals in the industry.

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