Category Archives: fuel cells

This fuel-cell forklift thing may be catching on after all…

Ballard Power saw a nice lift in its otherwise depressed stock price with the announcement today that it will supply at least 3,250 fuel cell stacks over the next 18 months to Plug Power, which will incorporate the stacks into its own fuel cell systems designed for the materials handling industry — i.e. forklifts. “Ballard anticipates that both the scale and cadence of associated product shipments will contribute to increased manufacturing efficiency and reduced fuel cell stack cost,” according to the company’s press release. Plug Power CEO Andy Marsh said the agreement with Ballard “is a reflection of the continuing growth of the sector, including new customers like Kroger Co. and repeat customers such as Sysco, who all feed into our manufacturing pipeline. Whole Foods, BMW, Central Grocers, Coca-Cola, FedEx Freight, Walmart Canada and Wegmans are among the companies now using Plug Power/Ballard fuel cell systems as part of their fleets of forklifts. Neither Ballard nor Plug Power are profitable yet, but they’re getting closer. That day when they get out of the red will be a long time coming and one to celebrate in the industry.

Library Journal review of Mad Like Tesla: “This book’s strong appeal should transcend all borders”

Hi all, I’m delighted to report that the first review of my upcoming book, Mad Like Tesla: Underdog Inventors and Their Relentless Pursuit of Clean Energy, is in and it’s, well, pretty encouraging. Here’s what Library Journal, an important industry trade magazine used as a purchasing guide by library buyer and book wholesalers, had to say:

Hamilton, energy and technology writer for the Toronto Star, examines some of the latest, most far-out green energy innovations and the people behind them. How far-out? Take, for example, a retired engineer’s idea to produce electricity via an artificial tornado, or a plan for a space-based power station that would harvest the sun’s energy, using microwaves to beam it down to earth. Other gizmos and processes seem more amenable to commercial success and social acceptance: Hamilton tells of a secretive company called EEStor that claims to have made a breakthrough in energy storage, and of a team building a low-cost nuclear fusion reactor. He strikes a fine balance between hope and hard realism when considering barriers to energy transition. As the “tornado guy” says, upon considering financial and regulatory obstacles: “Holy crap, that’s a lot to get through.” VERDICT: Mad Like Tesla is easy to get through, even for readers with only a basic knowledge of energy issues. Hamilton makes complex technologies comprehensible, and he clearly enjoys the remarkable human stories behind the science. Many of the risk takers and visionaries portrayed are Canadian (rocker Neil Young makes a cameo appearance!), but this book’s strong appeal should transcend all borders.

Can’t complain with that. The book is scheduled for public release on Sept. 1 and is already available for pre-order on a number of sites, including Amazon.com/Amazon.ca and Indigo.ca. The book won’t break the bank, either. We decided to do paperback release on first run to make the book more accessible to a larger audience. You can likely pick it up for $13 or so. I built a Web site I’m not entirely happy with, so plan to have a newly designed site finished by the end of August. Stay tuned!

SDTC: “We want to keep this rolling. It is important we maintain momentum.”

Those of you who frequent this blog know that I mention Sustainable Development Technology Canada quite regularly (picture to the left is of SDTC chief Vicky Sharpe). That’s because the federal agency, which was created nine years ago, has introduced me over the years to so many interesting, innovative and ambitious clean technology companies. SDTC does the screening. It carries out the due diligence. It offers funding for demonstration projects. It forces the hand of private investors that might not otherwise open their doors or pockets. It offers guidance. Introduces partners and customers. Need I say more? This agency has given dozens of promising green technologies and the companies behind them a solid chance of success. For every dollar of public money it has invested, it has tapped into twice as much (actually more) from the private sector. Over the past few years, that has translated into $515 million in public funding being leveraged to attract about $1.2 billion in mostly private funds.

That’s why in my Clean Break column this week I argue clean technology, and specifically the efforts of SDTC, need to be part of the country’s election dialogue. We need to build on the progress SDTC has achieved to date, not abandon the momentum at a time when major world economies — Germany, China, India, Brazil, the United States — are racing to establish a dominant position in the emerging global green economy.

The leaders of the political parties looking to run the next government need to be asked: How are they prepared to support clean technology innovation and green economic development in Canada?

Will feds give SDTC a new lease on life? We find out today at 4:30… stay tuned.

You’ll recall that last year the Canadian federal government refused to inject more funding into Sustainable Development Technology Canada, an agency that has proven crucial to helping Canadian energy and environmental innovations cross the “Valley of Death.” SDTC has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to clean technology demonstration projects and leveraged twice as much from the private sector. It has enough money to fund probably one more round of projects, after which it will exist simply to manage its existing portfolio of projects (it also manages and issues grants from a separate biofuels fund). To stop funding new clean technology innovation now would be a huge mistake, and SDTC officials have made this clear to the federal government. We’ll find out at 4:30 pm today, after details of the federal budget go public, if the Harper government will continue to fund the agency’s activities. If it doesn’t, this will be a sad day for cleantech in Canada…. stay tuned.

Hydrogen economy? Maybe not, but Ballard Power is surviving just the same

My Clean Break column in the Toronto Star today takes a look at a former darling of the fuel-cell industry, Ballard Power — remember those guys? Ballard was the hot kid on the block back in the late 1990s, when people still bought the idea that a hydrogen economy built around fuel-cell vehicles was just around the corner and Ballard would take us there. The vision was tempting. There are no greenhouse-gas emissions, no pollutants associated with the use of hydrogen to energize a fuel-cell car. Ballard also had — and still has — great technology. Unfortunately, it was really expensive, and the hydrogen infrastructure to support the introduction of fuel-cell vehicles just didn’t exist, nor was there a rush to make it happen. The company had its believers, including yours truly, and investors were also along for the ride. Ten years ago, the money-losing company had a market cap of more than $8 billion. But as we entered the 21st century, as it became clear that the hydrogen economy was a far-off target, and as excitement grew around battery-powered vehicles, Ballard started its downward spiral. In 2007 it sold off its automotive fuel-cell business and decided to focus on less sexy markets: forklifts and backup power. The company is still losing money, but it may actually break even next year, at least on an EBITDA basis. Revenues are growing. Costs are coming down. It turns out that niche markets can pay the bills. And now the company, a sliver of its former self (in terms of market value) is turning its efforts to distributed generation with a 1-megawatt product that makes oodles of sense, particularly in remote markets that are heavily dependent on diesel generators.

I’m delighted that Ballard is finding its way. It has inspired many spinoffs. It anchors the Vancouver cleantech scene. It’s the rock star that hit it big, rose quickly, then crashed into relative obscurity, only to emerge several years later with a more mature album that, while not having mass-market appeal, is critically acclaimed and attracting loyal followers.