11-06-22 The Importance of Funding

The Importance of Funding

Date publishedFormat
22 Jun 2011PDF (379 kb)

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Access to funding is vital to the development and commercialisation of any technology and fuel cells are no exception. After having successfully emerged from the global recession, this year has been something of a rollercoaster ride – which in some cases is not over yet.

Beginning at home in the UK the outlook remains good, with an extension of support for fuel cell and hydrogen technologies by the UK government, through the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). Established by the Government in 2007 to stimulate innovation in areas offering the greatest scope for boosting UK growth and productivity the TSB announced a funding round of £7.5 million to be available early in 2012 and demonstrates the continued belief in fuel cells and hydrogen in the UK. Government funding is not the only avenue available to companies though, with ACAL Energy, ITM Power and Intelligent Energy raising more than £10 million since the start of 2011 through a combination of grants, shareholder financing and venture capital investments.

Across the pond the picture is less clear with funding for hydrogen and fuel cells still not determined for 2011, let alone 2012. Hydrogen and fuel cell companies alike have been left in the dark as to the levels of funding on offer and industry group FCHEA has spent considerable energy targeting the politicians on Capitol Hill in an attempt to influence the outcome and secure future funding. Recently the House Committee on Appropriations cleared the 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which if it succeeds to be signed into law would be the first new Energy and Water bill since 2009. The FY2010 and FY2011 funding has been a continuation from that approved in FY2009, but not necessarily allocated to projects in the same way and I believe this uncertainty makes planning extremely difficult for fuel cell and hydrogen technology developers. Whilst a step in the right direction in terms of funding and project allocation, the FY2012 bill still has a long way to go before it becomes law. Next the bill must be passed by the House of Representatives and agreed by the Senate, before it can be presented to the President's Office, where President Obama has the power to either veto the bill or sign it into law; by no means a straightforward task considering Energy Secretary Chu’s historical preference for battery electric technology over fuel cells and hydrogen. The Department of Energy being one of the biggest funding bodies for the US industry increases the significance of this outcome.

Over the border in Canada, the fuel cell and hydrogen industries remain well supported with both national and provincial funding available. Through Sustainable Development Technology Canada, a non-profit organisation established by the government, Ballard this year was awarded $7 million (Canadian) to further the development of its CLEARgen stationary power system. Infrastructure has not been ignored here either with British Columbia awarding $870,000 (Canadian) of provincial funding towards the development of a hydrogen liquefaction facility in Vancouver. This facility will enable the use of locally produced by-product hydrogen, thereby removing the need to import fuel to the region for future fuel cell vehicle fleets, such as those powered by Daimler’s stacks to be produced at the Ballard facility in Burnaby, BC.

It should be noted that the scale of funding involved in different regions of the world does vary with, for example, the UK hosting a relatively small number of companies compared to the USA. US DoE proposed funding levels approach one hundred million dollars for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies, way above anything seen here in the UK.

Although the money is undoubtedly important, the sentiment behind it (especially that from governments) reflecting belief in fuel cell technologies should be considered of equal, if not greater importance in continued growth for the future.

Dan Carter     Manager

dancarter@fuelcelltoday.com

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