Ballard Power Systems (Ballard) are a Canadian hydrogen fuel cell technology company that has been undertaking research into proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell systems since 1983. The company was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and NASDAQ in 1993 and 1995 respectively and is one of the most established companies in the field. The company first deployed its technology for use in buses across ten European cities in 2003, reaching a cumulative total of 1 million km of revenue service by 2005. Since then, the company has grown steadily, bringing on new partners, securing large investment and deploying numerous fuel cell projects, largely in automotive applications.
Ballard's products are based upon proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell technology. PEM fuel cells are low temperature (80-100°C) fuel cells that use a polymer or mineral acid based membrane as an electrolyte with a platinum group catalyst. Compared to other fuel cell technologies, such as Alkaline Fuel Cells (AFCs), PEMs are much smaller and lightweight making them the preferred choice for transport applications. Ballard has three main product categories;
- Heavy duty modules
Ranging from 30kW - 200 kW in power output for use in a range of transport applications including rail, bus and forklifts.
- Fuel cell stacks
For OEMs and systems integrators who can use the technology according to their diverse range of application needs and requirements.
- Back up power
Ballard have produced an FCgen-H2PM back up power fuel cell system with customizable power output up to 60kW or higher for special customer requirements. The system is designed to have low operational cost and high reliability with remote monitoring control. The system also offers battery-free bridging energy options through the use of ultracaps. For back-up power applications in remote locations, hydrogen fuel supply logistics can be challenging and often an alternative fuel storage medium is necessary. Some AFC competitors use ammonia for off grid locations, whereas for PEM fuel cells, methanol is the most suitable hydrogen rich precursor that can be used without affecting the fuel cell performance. This is because of the acid chemistry of PEM cells.. Whilst readily available, the high toxicity of methanol means that it is highly regulated and that maximum storage quantities are in the region of a few hundred litres. Realistically, in off grid scenarios this prevents methanol-fed proton exchange fuel cells from being used for continuous power and restricts the technology to back-up power applications. Another problem is that the release of hydrogen from methanol gives CO2 emissions, which mitigates the zero emission benefits of using fuel cell technology.
Business model and markets
Ballard's primary markets are in automotive, rail, truck and bus applications and the company is among the global leaders in these applications. Stationary power is also a key market for Ballard, although is currently dwarfed by activity in other sectors. In 2018, Ballard announced they had signed a strategic partnership with Chinese company Weichai Power, to expand the company's presence within China.
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