Finland reaching for the top in fuel cell technology

6/25/2015
Fuel cells were supposed to become a realistic and emission-free alternative already years ago, but the technology turned out to be more expensive and challenging than expected. However, the technology is now making a new coming with innovations by Elcogen and Convion, based in Vantaa and Espoo respectively, and with Horizon funding.

Attempts have been made for decades to use hydrogen and fuel cells to create a new alternative for traffic and distributed energy production purposes. It has also been hoped that the technology can enter the market for renewable energy as part of smart electricity grids.

The greatest obstacle for a breakthrough has been the high price of the technology. However, development work has been carried out without interruption in Japan and the US, and also Finland. One of the top companies in the field is Elcogen Oy which operates in Vantaa, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia. It has focused on fuel cell technology and specifically on cells that can operate at lower temperatures.

The company has been in close cooperation with, among others, universities and VTT, from which it bought in 2009 the rights to the cell technology it currently uses. Elcogen's vision is that fuel cells could in future be used as energy solutions in households and business premises.

Going straight for the export market

According to CEO Paul Hallanoro, there is export potential not only in the EU but also in countries like Japan and the US. It is a clear indication of this potential that the company received a positive funding decision for the SME instrument under the Horizon 2020 programme.

"The timing of the SME instrument was perfect, because we were just about to update our business plan and make our innovation into a commercial product. The mere application process was an education for us, because it forced us to think about many aspects more thoroughly," says Mr Hallanoro.

The company has also participated in Tekes programmes, such as the Fuel Cells programme that ended in 2013. This was the second time the company took part in an SME instrument application.

"Tekes has been a really important partner for us; we would not be where we are now without them. Tekes experts and programmes have helped us develop our own operations, become better known and more creditable and create important networks and contacts," says Mr Hallanoro.

They received valuable assistance from Tekes for the process of submitting the SME instrument application.

"We received extremely valuable feedback from people who know the application process like the back of their hand, helping us to focus our application even better," he adds.

Convion makes use of domestic expertise

One of Elcogen's development partners and also customers is Convion Oy, which has also participated in the Fuel Cells and Green Growth programmes by Tekes. Convion, too, received a positive funding decision regarding the Horizon 2020 SME instrument, a further sign of Finland's strong expertise in fuel cells.

The company's roots are in Wärtsilä, which outsourced its fuel cell development in early 2013. Convion's systems create heat and electricity mainly from natural gas or biogas, but also from hydrogen.

According to CEO Erkko Fontell, Elcogen's technology opens up entirely new development prospects. This takes us to power levels of 50–100 kW, which presents clear commercial potential. Applications may vary from industry to shopping centres and in general to anything in which the objective is to improve energy efficiency, energy independence and reliability.

"When a fuel cell system is combined with, say, a biogas plant, the energy system becomes self-sufficient," says Mr Fontell.

Potential export markets in Europe include Germany, Italy, Great Britain and especially the Netherlands, in which there already are several biogas plants.

"We are running test trials with our first own product and hope to have it on the market within 1 to 3 years. We are currently seeking pilot projects," he adds.

Tekes on the right track

VNT Management has been operating at the background of Elcogen and Convion right from the start. Partner Vesa Sadeharju says that there is a clear reason for the investments amounting to millions of euros. They ensure that the top expertise will stay and continue to be developed in Finland.

"Finland has risen to international top level in fuel cell technology, and we must make the most of this opportunity. The big players in the US and Japan are warming up to the technology again, and we must not lose this head start," says Mr Sadeharju.

He gives recognition to Tekes development programs and funding decisions.

"Fuel cell technology is an excellent example of a future industry in the development of which it is both natural and important for us to participate," says Mr Sadeharju.

For further information, please contact

Paul Hallanoro, CEO
Elcogen Oy
Tel. 050 344 2437
paul.hallanoro (at) elcogen.com

Erkko Fontell, CEO
Convion Oy
Tel. 040 754 4389
erkko.fontell (at) convion.fi

Text: Timo Sormunen, Recommended

Soile Thalén
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