What happened

It's Friday and, once again, fuel cell stocks are moving higher in lockstep -- and once again, there appears to be no news to explain it.

Through 1 p.m. EDT trading, shares of FuelCell Energy (NASDAQ:FCEL) stock are up a healthy 3.8% (although they were doing even better, up more than 10% earlier in the day). Plug Power (NASDAQ:PLUG) is marching higher, too, up 5%. And Bloom Energy (NYSE:BE) is doing best of all, up 5.6%.

This isn't an isolated event. In fact, since the month of July began, Plug Power stock is up 14%, Bloom is up nearly twice that -- 27% -- and FuelCell Energy shares have racked up 39% worth of gains. Again, all on essentially no news.

Or more precisely, on no news specific to the companies in question.

Cartoon fuel cell car on palm of hand putting out H2 bubbles as exhaust

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

It turns out there is some other news in the alternative energy space that may be helping to fuel these stock price gains, and for that news, we turn to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). On June 29, the Department of Energy announced a new program to invest $100 million over five years "in two new DOE National Laboratory-led consortia to advance hydrogen and fuel cell technologies research and development (R&D)."  

Soon after that announcement came out, DOE announced that it will begin accepting requests for proposals from the industry on an apparently separate but related project to support the department's "H2@Scale" initiative to promote "large-scale, affordable hydrogen production, storage, distribution, and utilization across multiple sectors" -- worth $24 million. As DOE further explained, it will be looking for contractors able to help it with "advancing hydrogen fueling technologies for medium- and heavy-duty fuel cell vehicles," and also with "addressing technical barriers to hydrogen blending in natural gas."  

Now what

The $124 million up for grabs from these two DOE programs may not sound like a lot of money. But $124 million is nearly twice FuelCell's annual revenue ($69 million), about half of what Plug brings in in a year ($250 million), and even a pretty good chunk of Bloom Energy's annual sales ($795 million). In short, it's a prize worth winning for any of these three companies.

Proposals from would-be contractors on the $24 million contract, at least, are due by close of business on July 31. It's possible we could see above-average stock strength among fuel cell companies all the way up to when a winner is announced.