The Middle East and India could lead the developing world in adopting fuel-cell technology over the next five years. In the Middle East, economic diversification policies, especially with regard to renewable energy development, could drive the change, according to a recent study by the US engineering firm FCT Consulting. "Since the worldwide economic downturn, renewed focus has been on developing a renewable resource base for a post-hydrocarbon world, building on existing plans for large sustainable energy projects," wrote Dr Jonathan Butler and Dr Kerry-Ann Adamson, two senior analysts with FCT.
"There is now a clear focus on clean technologies as a wealth generator, backed by strong political will. "A number of fuel-cell companies have started to do business in the Middle East." They cited Germany's P21 and the US firm Altergy Systems as companies offering fuel-cell-based systems within the region to provide uninterrupted power for telecommunications and critical infrastructure. Hydrogenics, a Canadian company active in the Middle East, is focused on developing solar-powered water electrolysis - the process of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen - as a way to balance the intermittency of power generation from solar panels.
The hydrogen could be collected and stored as fuel for power generation at night and on cloudy days. India's fast-growing economy and unreliable power grid creates special opportunities for fuel-cell applications in sectors such as telecoms and distributed power generation, FCT said. "The hundreds of thousands of new telecommunications base stations required over the next few years gives a sense of the scale of potential demand for fuel cells in India," Dr Butler and Dr Adamson wrote.
Large Indian corporations such as the energy and materials conglomerate Reliance Industries and the vehicle maker Tata were seeking to develop large, stationary fuel cells running on natural gas to generate electricity for properties they owned, including shopping malls, luxury hotels and private hospitals. Outside these two regions, most early adopters of fuel-cell technology were expected to be in the industrialised world, "in 'emerged' markets such as Europe, Japan and North America where job creation and emissions reduction are key", FTC said.