"The main achievement of the Fuel Cells Programme is that it has strengthened Finland's position in the world. We are one of the key developers of fuel cell technologies and now they know it in other places too," says Erkko Fontell, Chairman of the Programme Management Team.
The Programme generated new business and brought a long-term perspective to the development of fuel cells. Convion, Elcogen and Hybria are new companies that sprung up while the Programme was running, but, in addition, there was new business in the surfacing industry, for example.
"Not all the goals have been achieved and the company demos, in particular, were moved to a later date. The development of the fuel cell industry overall has turned out to be slower than what was predicted just 10 years ago," says Fontell.
The fuel cell market, however, is growing fast. Since 2006, the rate of growth has been between 30 and 40% a year, and now it is more than 50%. Hydrogen and fuel cells have potential in transport and decentralised energy production, and, in the future, for ensuring the equal distribution of renewable energy and smart electricity grids.
Piloting and business – EU programmes provide support
The achievements of the Fuel Cell Programme are also reflected in the fact that Finns are prominent in EU projects. There is particular demand for the wide-ranging competence that VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has in fuel cell development. It is now involved in more than 20 projects and eight from VTT exclusively were approved in the round of applications this year. EU projects relating to the fuel cell sector are being implemented within the context of a robust programme of cooperation between European industry and research known as the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), in which research supports demonstrations and pilot ventures interactively.
"Finns in international consortia have, with small investments, made profits of more than 60 million euros and been involved in international business chains," says Anneli Ojapalo, Coordinator of the Fuel Cell Programme.
The heat and electric power in the 50-300 kilowatt fuel cell systems that Wärtsilä outsourced to Convion are mainly produced from natural gas or biogas, though hydrogen can also be used. The places where these are used may vary enormously: from people's houses to shopping centres, hospitals or office buildings or, for example, to help guarantee the supply of emergency or additional power. At present, Convion is looking for Finnish and international partners to pilot the scheme. Wärtsilä is a shareholder in Convion and is committed to further development.
"Our products will allow us to improve energy efficiency dramatically and cut emissions. The mega-trends suggest that the market potential will at least do nothing to restrict our future growth," says Fontell.
The latest company to be involved in the Programme, Elcogen, develops cost-effective low temperature cells using VTT technology, and now sells its products and has opened distribution channels in Europe and to Japan and China.
Woikoski, meanwhile, a company that has produced hydrogen from industrial branch currents for more than a hundred years, developed a hydrogen refuelling station under the Programme. Woikoski is keeping its eyes on the sales of its technologies to Europe and Asia, and is ready to build a station network in Finland when the time is ripe.
"In future, it will be most important to have bigger pilot projects as a result of technological developments. Funding can be applied for under the EU's Horizon 2020 Programme, for example. Furthermore, the Tekes programmes known as EVE (Electric Vehicle Systems), Witty City, Smart Procurement and INKA (Innovative Cities) may provide opportunities for experimental projects based on fuel cell technology," says Martti Korkiakoski, Manager of the Fuel Cell Programme.
Programme Manager Martti Korkiakoski
Tel. +358 2950 55875, martti.korkiakoski (at) tekes.fi
Programme Coordinator Anneli Ojapalo
Tel. +358 40 558 8205, anneli.ojapalo (at) spinverse.com