The British manufacturer Ceres Power develops fuel cells – and issues licenses to manufacturing partners such as the Chinese engine manufacturer and the German industrial group, which has also invested in Ceres Power. With the help of a large capital increase, CEO Phil Caldwell now wants to steer the company on a growth path.
I’ve been in the fuel cell industry for 18 years, and I’ve never seen as much demand for our technology as there is today. Not just at Ceres, but in the entire industry, not just in Europe, but worldwide.
Back then, many major automotive and energy companies were researching fuel cells and hydrogen – but by the way, it wasn’t part of their strategy. The automakers focused on developing more efficient internal combustion engines. Back then we tried to push our technology onto the market – today it’s the other way round, now the market is calling for our fuel cells.
The whole market is different: Today, governments around the world are taking the fight against climate change seriously. For example, countries are tightening the laws on CO2 emissions from vehicles. At the same time, we are experiencing disruption from renewable energies; the costs of solar energy and batteries, for example, have fallen more quickly than anyone predicted.
Hydrogen addresses those parts of the economy that cannot reduce their CO2 emissions to zero with other technologies. How do we decarbonize heavy trucks, ships, planes? You can’t do this with batteries alone. The same applies to industrial applications: electricity and heat for companies, energy for the production of steel, cement or ammonia.
With Weichai, one of the largest commercial vehicle manufacturers in China, we are developing hydrogen drives for buses and trucks. With Doosan in South Korea, we are working on major solutions for energy supply. In Japan, we sell our technology for powering and heating commercial buildings such as supermarkets. And in we are working on decentralized energy generation via fuel cells.
Yes, we are developing small, modular fuel cell power plants with Bosch. They can generate electricity in data centers, charge electric cars, and supply office buildings with energy. Our fuel cells are quieter and more efficient than any conventional thermal power plant. They can easily be built into buildings. And they can use different fuels – in addition to hydrogen, also natural gas or biogas. Bosch expects a market for decentralized energy systems of 20 billion euros by 2030.
If we use more and more electric vehicles, we have to strengthen the power grid for the charging stations. Fuel cells can help with this – by producing electricity from hydrogen where there is a lack of electricity connections. This can also be combined with the power supply and heating of buildings.
Data centers consume around two percent of the world’s electricity production and cause more emissions than aviation. They use diesel generators as a backup. But the tech industry is leading the way when it comes to sustainability and is looking for clean solutions. With decentralized fuel cell power plants, we can provide data centers with extremely reliable electricity around the clock. The power grid is then only the backup for emergencies.
Think about the steps involved in conventional power generation: You are transporting raw materials to a power plant. There they convert it into thermal energy through combustion. And then you use this thermal energy to generate kinetic energy with a gas turbine or an internal combustion engine. They convert the kinetic energy into electrical energy. And then you transfer the electrons over a long distance. Each of these steps has a loss of efficiency.
In fuel cell power plants, electricity generation is more efficient than in a conventional thermal power plant. In addition, there are no transmission or distribution losses because the electricity is generated where it is needed.
Many people live in very old houses, mine is a hundred years old, poorly insulated – and therefore not well suited for a heat pump. Combined heat and power with hydrogen can be a good solution: Fuel cells have an efficiency of around 60 percent when generating electricity – 40 percent are converted into heat. They get it practically free for heating. And then suddenly the power plant becomes 85, 90 percent efficient. Such fuel cell power plants are already widespread in Japan.
I think Elon Musk is simplifying the argument to sell all-battery electric vehicles. Batteries and fuel cells are not opposites, but technologies that complement each other well: a battery is a storage device and a fuel cell is a device for generating electricity. Today you might be driving a hybrid vehicle with an internal combustion engine and a battery and no one is saying that’s a bad idea. If you take away the internal combustion engine and put in a fuel cell, you have a much more efficient drive. The fuel cell gives you range, the battery the quick response.
Most of the major automakers today have major fuel cell programs:,,, Weichai,. In the second half of the decade, we will see more and more fuel cell vehicles on the market.
Fuel cells are where batteries were maybe five or ten years ago. They are now operational and there is no technical hurdle left to overcome. Only prices have yet to change. With mass production, we can achieve economies of scale and reduce costs – just as we did with solar energy and batteries. That is why we are now hearing more and more conversations about gigafactories for fuel cells.
We are now starting this with our partners. Bosch has a pilot production facility in Bamberg and has announced that it will expand production in Germany to several hundred megawatts. South Korea wants to set up fuel cell production of 15 gigawatts by 2040 – we are working with Doosan there. And we are also getting into hydrogen production – for steel production and ammonia production, for example.
This is of particular interest to WiWo readers today
If you operate the fuel cell in reverse, you have an electrolyser – and can generate hydrogen from electricity. We are intensifying our research in this area and see great opportunities for our technology in the decarbonization of industry.
Hardly any stock market sector performed as strongly in 2020 as hydrogen and clean energy, then there was a sharp correction.