Although they represented 20% of all fuel cell systems shipped in 2010, fuel cells used as auxiliary power units (APUs) remain very limited commercially. In 2010 global fuel cell APU shipments totaled only a little over 3,100, almost all of them manufactured in Europe. Nevertheless, there is a developing market for the use of fuel cells as APUs across a range of markets. Originally used in the aviation industry, the term “auxiliary power unit” is used to describe a production unit that primarily provides power for the vehicle’s hoteling loads – i.e., any electrical power that is required by the vehicle for purposes other than the primary propulsion system, including such draws as heating and lighting. While the size of the market in terms of absolute numbers will not be large, reaching just over 5,000 units by 2020, the sector will grow strongly over the next several years. According to a new report from Pike Research, worldwide revenue from fuel cell APUs will reach $66 million annually in 2020, with a total cumulative investment of more than $400 million during the period from 2009 to 2020.
The four main market sectors for fuel cell APUs are marine, trucking, aviation, and recreational vehicles (RVs). All have the potential to use fuel cell technology initially in an APU function for vehicle hoteling loads but, in the future, fuel cell technology could also be used to assist the primary propulsion unit.
“The reason for the slow but steady growth in this market is that, unlike the other applications for which fuel cell technology is being developed, there are a number of non-trivial technological and regulatory barriers that need to be addressed for the marine and aviation sectors especially, and for trucking to a lesser degree,” says research director Kerry-Ann Adamson. “For marine and aviation, although the drivers for the adoption of new practices or technologies are high, without further development, fuel cell technology cannot be rolled out in these sectors.”
Indeed, the marine and aviation markets represent the areas where fuel cells, with their lower emissions and noise signatures, could have the largest impact. But both of these markets will require more substantial investment in R&D and technology development between now and 2020, before they are ready for widescale commercialization. Pike Research anticipates that the RV sector, already the largest market for fuel cell APUs, will continue its steady growth during the coming decade – although profit margins per unit remain low and even the market leader, SFC Energy, is starting to increase its focus on non-RV markets.
Pike Research’s report, “Fuel Cells for Auxiliary Power Unit Applications”, analyzes the market potential for fuel cells to be utilized as APUs in marine, trucking, aviation, and RV markets. The study includes a comprehensive assessment of market drivers and barriers, technology issues, and key industry players in each of the four sectors. Forecasts are provided for each sector through 2020, including unit shipments, revenue, and total capacity in megawatts. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the firm’s website.