Fuel Cell Industry Still Strong, Say Advocates

May 7, 2014

No company has yet turned a profit in what is still an emerging industry.

The market for fuel cells is growing, according to industry experts, despite the recent bankruptcy of one of Connecticut's largest fuel cell manufacturers.

ClearEdge Power sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week after laying off about 250 workers in Connecticut. The move came as a shock to industry watchers, including Joel Rinebold, of the Connecticut Hydrogen Fuel Cell Coalition.

Rinebold said the industry as a whole is doing well. "Sales appear to be up, [and] costs down," he said. The market appears to be supported by strong market drivers. That would be both for stationary fuel cells, as well as mobile fuel cells, that are being used for zero-emission vehicles."

In 2012, then Oregon-based ClearEdge bought the assets of UTC Power, a division of United Technologies and one of the largest fuel cell makers in the world. The acquisition vastly increased ClearEdge's product line, and the company sought and received private equity financing. No company has yet turned a profit in what is still an emerging industry, and ClearEdge's bankruptcy filing showed it was hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.

Rinebold is still hopeful the company will continue in some form. "At this time, we just don't know," he said. "We don't know where and how the company will be marketed, [or] will be sold, and where and how that company will pick up with production or manufacturing in Connecticut. We just don't know at this time. Right now, it could be as simple as a sale of its assets to another company that'll pick up business."

Rinebold's Fuel Cell Coalition estimates that hydrogen and fuel cell supply companies contributed almost $1.1 billion and more than 5,700 jobs to the economy in the northeast last year.