What happened

It's Monday again, and a new week has begun for fuel cell investors. Unfortunately for FuelCell Energy (FCEL -4.04%) investors in particular, this week seems to be getting off to an even worse start than last week did. (Hint: FuelCell lost 16% last week.)

And FuelCell stock is down another 10% as of 1 p.m. EDT today.

What's ailing FuelCell today? Well, if we're being honest, it could be just a symptom of the disease that has all the other fuel cell stocks looking sickly today, as Plug Power (PLUG -3.12%), Ballard Power (BLDP -2.85%), and Bloom Energy (BE -4.41%) take similar stumbles in afternoon trading. But FuelCell stock's troubles may be of a different order -- and I'll tell you why.

Big red arrow going down over a stock chart.

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

If you survey the entire fuel cell industry, a couple of patterns emerge. First, and most obviously, there's the lack of profits. None of these companies are profitable, and according to Wall Street analysts, it could be several years more before any of them become profitable. (FuelCell in particular isn't expected to book its first profit before 2025.)

To help them survive until profits arrive, and to hasten that day's arrival and assist their expansion into new markets, fuel cell companies have been partnering with companies in related industries. To date:

  1. Plug Power has announced industrial alliances with Renault to build fuel cell vans in Europe, with BAE Systems to build fuel cell buses in North America, and with SK Group to develop a hydrogen power infrastructure in South Korea.
  2. Ballard Power is teaming up with Canadian auto parts company Linamar to build fuel cell solutions for Class 1 and Class 2 light-duty motor vehicles.
  3. And just last Wednesday, Bloom Energy announced it is collaborating with Baker Hughes to integrate their respective fuel cell and gas turbine technologies.

But FuelCell? Well, aside from telling investors, way back in March, that it has joined the Hydrogen Europe "European association representing the interests of the hydrogen and fuel cell industry and its stakeholders," FuelCell appears to be the odd man out.

Now what

That could be a problem for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, Hydrogen Europe isn't nearly as well-known a name as Renault, BAE, or Baker Hughes, for example. It's not even a company but an "association" of companies -- more like a chamber of commerce than a commercial partner, and it currently appears to reside primarily on a "temporary website" in cyberspace.

Without an established industrial partner to help share the costs of developing new fuel cell products, and fuel cell infrastructure to support them, FuelCell will have to rely on its own resources. And as the smallest of the four best-known, publicly traded fuel cell players, with less than a $2.4 billion market cap and less than $70 million in annual sales, those resources will remain limited relative to the competition. Meanwhile, FuelCell's rivals are racing ahead, growing their sales, expanding their relationships, and invading each other's markets.

Alone and without large allies, this looks like a world war FuelCell has little chance of winning.