I attended the Fuel Cell Seminar and Expo #FCS2025 last week to gather information about suppliers in the industry for a US Department of Energy project. It is inspiring to be in the same room with the hundreds of researchers and policy people that have collectively built the technology for a future of clean energy using fuel cells.
I am inspired by their persistence – some working across decades to improve components like the fuel cell stack, membranes and anti-corrosive coatings that make fuel cells a viable technology. While this clean energy technology has only scratched the surface of consumer awareness, the scientists and technology directors here have spent years and decades perfecting it.
In transportation, all of the major auto manufacturers are in the game. Toyota launched its Mirai in limited US markets. Honda is road testing its Clarity. Plug Power, a company that makes fuel cell powered forklifts, has been going strong for years, replacing traditional lead acid batteries in warehouse applications. California has committed to install dozens of hydrogen fueling stations over the next few years to get the ball rolling and support the effort of automakers committed to building these future clean energy vehicles.
In stationery power, GE is developing fuel cell systems as big as 20′ shipping containers capable of provide energy for small scale utilities, industrial applications, institutions and emergency power when the grid is down. Microsoft is using fuel cells internally bring their power source closer to their server centers. Bloom Energy, a large-scale player has clients such as FedEx, IKEA, Target, Comcast, Apple, eBay and Google which have already begun relying on fuel cells for power generation and backup.
More than ever before, industries, governments, hospitals and public safety are looking for ways to keep the power on during disasters. Decentralizing power generation—not relying on the energy grid—provides significant advantages toward achieving resilience. In the event of a massive power failure, using fuel cells as an alternative energy source fills that gap and provides emergency backup power. Bringing the power generation closer to the need eliminates many potential points of failure and increases the flexibility of the system’s owner. It also reduces a business’ carbon footprint in daily operations as well as provide heat.
Several consumer-level products such as cell phone chargers and low-voltage experimental kits are also on the market. Novices can play with fuel cells and see them in action.
With a record of consistent and safe performance under our collective belt, the fuel cell industry is poised to launch a new wave of power development in the US. We’re behind Japan and Europe, but it’ll be a great day when we catch up. Look for fuel cells in your near future. Much like microwave ovens, electric vehicles and cellphones, there will be a time when you were amazed that we didn’t have them.