Post of the Day
June 9, 2000

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Rule Breaker - Companies

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Subject:  Re: Fuel Cells in Cars
Author:  pecten

[This post is in response to one by TMFTardior]


Have you not seen the spot prices? :-)

Oil supply
The major resource holding countries are not turning the taps on even with Americans whining [...] about fuel prices (not an insignificant event in a presidential election year). So all political pressure possible is being levied and still the price is high.

Oil is running short but the price for supply will eventually rise so we can exploit reserves that are financially unattractive at today's rates. Oil sands in Canada hold huge reserves that are simply uneconomic right now.

So I have no doubt we will be able to find more if the price is right. Indeed we are still finding great oil plays (e.g. under the salt in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Caspian).

Alternatives will become more attractive
However, alternatives will become attractive (to oil companies too). More importantly, with fuel cells we are talking about a viable alternative to certain fuel applications. Not a panacea.

Wind, sun, nuclear, hydro power are all in use and making money for companies. There is not a single power generation answer here. The same goes for transport. For example, aircraft may still require high performance fuel.

Also, we will continue to refine hydrocarbons into added value products like ermm...hydrogen-based fuel :). Gasoline is a byproduct that we may as well use until we find an alternative? I think that IC engines will be much cleaner with time but will never give zero emissions.

A complex issue
So there are two sides to this argument. However, fuel cells have come of age and are nearing the point where they take off. All the oil and car companies are not spending money and time on this for fun.

This is not just about gasoline v. hydrogen. This is about geopolitics, environmental issues, limited resources and rapid technology advances that have only really started to deliver their promise over the last few years.

Hydrogen is the cleanest fuel. Full stop. It is the only sustainable option and is what the sun uses too (more than a coincidence). We even have a source of hydrogen that covers the majority of the planet. So what's the problem here? Our ingenuity has almost brought us to a clean energy solution for some applications (buses for sure!).

I think there will be a lot of buyers for a fuel with zero emissions that performs as good as an internal combustion engine. Serious companies are calculating that this will happen too. Alternative fuels are coming.

Oil is still number one but will not remain so in all market segments. The planet cannot take it. Neither will transitional steps to a pure hydrogen fuel cell make the grade. We have to get a hydrogen fuel cell as soon as possible (without a reformer).

People will clamour for change
I have faith in the public. They will see the polar ice caps melting and put two and two together. Consider the changes to society since the 1970s. Have you really heard all this before?

Had you heard of a green movement, ethical funds, natural capitalism, sustainable development, and so on, before the last 20 years?

Well, I hadn't and it looks to me like this move to a cleaner world will now culminate in a number of advances including fuel cells.

I think it will be rapid evolution rather than overnight revolution but it will happen. We can feel it here in the oil companies.

It is like the Internet. Humankind's ingenuity has at last developed to the point where we are starting to make things happen that were only talked about for years. Good grief, there is more computing power in a musical greetings card than in the first moon rocket. The human genome has (nearly) been decoded. We can clone animals. Why oh why is it so hard for us to believe that fuel cells are here to stay?

Ballard is already breaking the rules
I studied petroleum engineering for 4 years and I am in one of the best paid engineering jobs in the world. Oil has been very good to me. Yet even I still have to admit that fuel cells work. They are now borderline economic (all the other energies you mentioned are not yet, but will be by 2050 IMHO). They are going to happen. It is like the Internet in 1990.

Brand will matter here. Lots of people make cola but there is still only one number one Coca-Cola brand (number one of all brands actually). Ballard has managed to put itself in the driving seat here (powered by the fuel cell of course).

In ten to fifteen years we might be able to grow human hearts (see NASDAQ:ATIS board) so we'll certainly have a zero emission vehicle before then. I expect Ballard technology to be used in this vehicle (probably under licence). I also think they will make money from the stationary power market too (the electricity industry is evolving rapidly too). We are entering a new energy era and Ballard will be a major player.

Thanks for the discussion point. :-)


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