A Trillion Dollar Revolution Is Coming Soon!
by Catherine Pears December 16, 1999 smallcapcenter.com "Where to find the next big thing."
The fuel cell car is coming. It’s a trillion dollar transformation -- the biggest automotive revolution since Henry Ford ("you can have any colour you want as long as its black") introduced the assembly line to car manufacturing.
It’s as simple as this: when the internal combustion engine disappears, so does the spark plug, the piston ring, the valves, the radiator, the catalytic converter, the muffler, the fuel pump, the alternator – you name it.
For dozens of large and small automotive supply companies it will change fundamentally the parts they produce, and the kinds of materials they use to make them. Meanwhile newcomers, -- already making some of the specialized fuel cell components for other, limited applications -- have stars in their eyes..
And they’re all being very close-mouthed about how what they’re up to.
"Fuel cells have the potential to replace the internal combustion engine and could provide a quantum leap to the manner in which power is generated in automobiles," says Michael Corbett, consultant with Kline & Company of New Jersey. Corbett has done a study on fuel cells in automotive applications.
Every major car company in the United States, Europe, and Japan has a serious fuel cell program. All have invested tens of millions to find a commercially viable, light and marketable alternative to the gas-guzzling, air-polluting internal combustion machine.
The race is on. Diamler-Benz has committed to 30,000 fuel cell vehicles in 2004 and 100,000 in 2005. Toyota, Nissan and Honda are also working towards a commercial product within four years. Ballard Fuel Systems (NASDAQ:BLDP) of Vancouver, considered the industry leader in fuel cell development, has commercial agreements with most of them.
Far-sighted companies know that they have to prepare for the future or be left behind. Many are already heavily involved in fuel cell research and assessing the adaptability of traditional products to fit fuel cell cars.
But few will talk about it. They are extremely reluctant to divulge details about fuel cell research either because of competition concerns or iron-clad confidentiality agreements with car manufacturers. As one car parts supplier put it," The car manufacturers are our customer and we can’t speak for them or about what they will require."
Arvin Industries (NASDAQ: ARV),for example, acknowledges it has established a fuel cell team and that many of its members spent a month this fall exploring alternate fuel sources in Germany.
Arvin is a global supplier of exhaust systems, filters, catalytic converters, shock absorbers and other car parts. It supplied the exhaust system for a hybrid, fuel cell powered prototype produced by Toyota. "Absolutely, we are working with car companies on alternative fuel solutions for the car but we are not in the business of talking publicly about the operations within our company."
Modine Manufacturing Company (NASDAQ: MODI)of Racine, Wisconsin makes heat-transfer equipment, radiators, air conditioning equipment and heat exchangers for all types of engines. It will not yet say specifically what its fuel cell involvement is other than it has a working relationship with Ballard Power Systems Ltd., a leader in zero-emission fuel cells for vehicles. In its latest annual report, though, the company predicts that because cars with fuel cells need more heat exchangers than traditional cars, "this trend represents a significant, long-term opportunity for the company."
Prototype Modine heat exchangers are being tested right now.
Most fuel cell prototypes use methanol, compressed natural gas or hydrogen to produce electricity for energy. DCH Technology(\OTC BB DCHT) is a five-year-old company, headquartered in Valencia, Ca. that has patented technology for hydrogen gas sensors – "sniffers."
Called the Robust Hydrogen Sensor, DCHT’s sensor is a 3/8 inch chip using palladium and nickel that detects hydrogen leaks. The Robust Hydrogen Sensor has been used on the space shuttle, several rocket launches, industrial plants and a nuclear power plant. It is now being tested along with the DCH Thick Film Sensor by four major car-makers for leak detection in hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars.
"Hydrogen sensors are part of every spec sheet that we get in from any of the car manufacturers," says Dennis Reid, director of investor relations and marketing for DCH. He says the company can see as many as five sensors per automobile and that market potential for sensors in cars is staggering. "We don’t know for sure how big this market is but we do know we stand a good chance of being one of the market leaders.
"RAM Capital Management of Palm Beach Florida believes DCH could increase its market share of the current $440 million hydrogen detection industry, as hydrogen and fuel cells are implemented in the economy. DCH has already quadrupled in the last 18 months because of the growing need for hydrogen safety. And If just one of the four car-makers testing DHC sensors selects DCH, according to the RAM report, it could "mean tens of millions in revenue."
Other companies see a role for themselves in the power side of fuel cell car manufacture. Maxwell Technologies Inc. (NASDAQ: MXWL) has used specialized expertise acquired from its defense and space contracts to develop commercial products. Its advanced products division is working on fine-tuning ultracapacitors to be built into car engines. Simply put, ultracapacitors store electrical energy that kicks in within seconds to give a car engine an extra boost. – alleviating the major knock on all electrically-driven vehicles, poor acceleration.
"Battery or fuel cell vehicles tend to have very good energy for cruising but they are not very efficient at delivering power," said Richard Smith, Maxwell vice president technology. That is where ultracapacitors come in – storing energy from the engine and then re-delivering it in very high currents of electricity.
Maxwell says it has non-disclosure agreements with almost every car manufacturer in the world. Last summer, it signed an agreement with Siemens AG of Germany and Siemens Matsushita Components GmbH that will bring it $30 million in royalties over the next 10 years. Siemens Matsushita has the right to sell the Maxwell ultracapacitors anywhere other than in the NAFTA countries.
Ultracapacitors’ effect on sales and profitability won’t show up until at least 2003. Meanwhile, the company is looking at more, near-term markets for small capacitors, about the size of cigarette lighters for hand-held electronic devices, scanners and even embedded in car doors as energy source.
If the fuel cell revolution takes hold, the companies already working with major car manufacturers will have a leg up on competitors who think this is just another Flash Gordon dream.
This article also appeared in The Investment Reporter