Fuel Cell Future Looks Rosy

KELOWNA, B.C., Canada - More than 600 members of the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute (HRAI) of Canada converged on the resort town of Kelowna in mid-August for HRAI's 36th annual general meeting. The theme: "Expand Your Comfort Zone." Those words were echoed by HRAI chairman John Murphy who told attendees, "We are walking the talk. Expanding our comfort zone is the way to go."

One way HRAI is encouraging members to expand their comfort zone is by exploring the uses of fuel cell technology.

A seminar on the topic was presented by Francois Girard of the National Research Council Canada (NRC). Girard discussed how fuel cell innovations might impact the HVAC industry.

Fuel Cell Benefits

"For once, Canada is the leader in this technology. We are closer to a gold medal in this than in Athens [Olympics]," Girard joked. According to his figures:

  • 54 percent of fuel cell vehicles from auto manufacturers worldwide use Canadian fuel cell technology.

  • 97 organizations are involved in Canada's fuel cell and hydrogen industry.

  • 82 projects in foreign jurisdictions in 2002-03 involved Canadian fuel cell products/companies.

    He pointed out that British Columbia is home to the largest cluster of fuel cell technology in the world, and that other areas of Canada (such as Montreal and Toronto) are becoming hot beds for this emerging technology.

    One of the technological ad-vantages that fuel cells have over conventional energy sources, Girard said, is the longevity of their stationary power, which can last up to 40,000 hours before cells need to be replaced.

    He pointed out three other fuel cell advantages:

  • They provide superior efficiency compared to conventional technologies, with little or no emissions.

  • They can utilize carbon-based and renewable energy sources.

  • They are quiet, fuel flexible, and modular in construction.

    Growth On Horizon

    Given these advantages, the global fuel cell market is on the verge of rapid development, he concluded. According to the NRC, the fuel cell market will grow from $1 billion in 2003 to $46 billion in 2011.

    Of that $46 billion, $18 billion will be distributed through stationary power. The mass markets for stationary power include home heating; niche markets include backup emergency power.

    "The promises for fuel cell technology are great," said Girard; "not bad for a technology in its infancy."

    Girard said that the Canadian market will be hard to break into using fuel cells, and for one reason: The cost of hydroelectric fuel is low and the demand for it is high. The world depends on hydroelectric for 17 percent of its energy needs, but Canada has a 61-percent dependency.

    However, he said fuel cell technology will eventually move into the mass market from its current niche.

    "Fuel cells can potentially replace all levels of battery power generation," he said, "but we need to address its durability and reliability issues."

    Publication date: 10/04/2004

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