Fuel cells are an emerging technology that can provide heat and electricity to buildings and power for vehicles while emitting nothing but water. To bring more high-impact fuel cell innovations to the marketplace, the Energy Department’s (DOE) Fuel Cell Technologies Office (FCTO) within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, supports research and development (R&D) that improves the performance and lowers the cost of these systems.
The office recently reached a major milestone, with 500 patents resulting from FCTO-supported R&D.
Tracking the number of patents granted, as well as the number of technologies commercialized, is one of several ways to measure the robustness and innovative vitality of a research, development, and deployment program because it shows the impact the program is making on the market. FCTO assesses the commercial benefits of its funding through the annual Pathways to Commercial Success: Technologies and Products Supported by the Fuel Cell Technologies Office. The latest edition of this report shows that FCTO’s R&D efforts over the last decade have resulted in more than 500 patents, 45 commercial technologies that have entered the market, and 65 technologies that are projected to be commercialized within three to five years (as of November 2014). These include fuel cell systems and components as well as hydrogen production, delivery, and storage technologies, that will help develop the emerging fuel cell market. More than 450 jobs have been created or retained annually as a result of FCTO funding.
Leveraging National Lab Capabilities
In an effort to foster increased collaboration with National Laboratories, DOE is working to identify and develop strategies to overcome key barriers to commercialization of the National Laboratories’ innovative technologies. In November, FCTO kicked off their National Laboratory Tech-to-Market activities at the 2014 Fuel Cell Seminar and Energy Exposition in Los Angeles. During the event, Reuben Sarkar, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation, delivered a plenary keynote presentation and FCTO held a panel on demystifying how industry can work with National Labs to leverage unique skills and facilities. The presentation can be accessed here.
Small Businesses Making Big Market Impact
One great example of increased collaboration with National Labs is realized through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Earlier this year, DOE announced the selection of 40 small businesses for SBIR funding that total nearly $6.3 million. Among the selections was a first-of-its-kind project under a new EERE SBIR Technology Transfer Opportunity (TTO) that moves existing inventions developed at DOE’s National Laboratories to the marketplace and accelerates the pace of commercialization.
Newton, Massachusetts-based Giner Inc. will use technology patented by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) along with the company’s well-established dimensionally-stabilized membrane technology. Giner will apply LANL’s technology and state-of-the-art catalyst materials to develop advanced, high-performance, and durable polymer electrolyte membrane electrode assemblies for fuel cell and electrolysis applications. These achievements can lower the cost of hydrogen production technologies and fuel cell electric vehicles to enable significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
Encouraging a Growing Market
FCTO’s success in bringing new fuel cell technologies to market is converting American innovation into American jobs. Major companies—such as Walmart, Coca-Cola, FedEx, Sysco, Wegmans, and Whole Foods—are deploying fuel cell forklifts in their warehouses and distribution facilities. EERE’s cost-shared funds toward the deployment of about 700 of these forklifts helped validate the market for this early application of fuel cell technology. In the wake of those initial purchases, private businesses have ordered more than 7,500 additional fuel cell forklifts with no DOE funding. In addition, 900 successful DOE-supported emergency backup power projects led to 4,000 fuel cell systems with no DOE funding. EERE’s investment of $95 million in specific hydrogen and fuel cell projects led to more than $410 million in revenue, and an investment of approximately $70 million in specific projects led to nearly $390 million in additional private investment. These rapidly growing markets have helped expand America’s clean energy economy, reduce carbon emissions, and improve the environment.