Will FC Expo 2013 mark the start of Japan’s second wave of residential fuel cell products?
When I attended FC Expo 2013 - Japan’s largest international fuel cell conference and trade show - in Tokyo last week, a number of people I spoke with mentioned how they thought the Expo had shrunk for the second year running. However, this was not to say there was less fuel cell micro-CHP on show as well as some interesting newcomers… Five years on from the launch of the initial launch of the ENE-FARM by JX, Panasonic, and Toshiba – and with sales expected to have grown to exceed 50,000 systems in FY2012 – the manufacturers may feel like their initial awareness raising job is complete. Likewise, the deals that will enable the manufacturers to access the potentially lucrative European market are most likely done and dusted (e.g. Panasonic and Viessmann), or at an advanced stage. So while Toshiba and Panasonic plumped for low key displays - JX avoided putting their wares on show as they did at their large exhibition booth like last year – and Aisin didn’t exhibit their new ‘Type S’ SOFC ENE-FARM developed in conjunction with Osaka Gas and Kyocera - we saw some new pretenders take up a place to show what they have to offer to the international community. NGK/NTK were there for the second year running. A market leading global manufacturer of components for the automotive industry, they were there showing off their 1kW SOFC system. Admittedly this was the same “display unit” they had on show last year, and there were no obvious signs of the partnership with Honda as was announced late last year. However, this could be a promising move if the Nagoya-based corporation applies to fuel cell stacks the same “high quality, low price” ethos that made them so successful in their core businesses. Miura Kogoyo and Sumitomo Precision were a newcomer with their 4.2kW SOFC micro-CHP system on display. The former is a major Japanese heating equipment manufacturer - the latter originally an aerospace manufacturing company who branched out into other technologies (e.g. heat exchangers and semiconductors). Predicting commercialisation from 2015 and aimed at the small commercial sector, the compact nature of their system and the ambitious price and efficiency targets means it could be an exciting new product on the market. And in the technical forums, we heard from TOTO about their plans for residential fuel cells. Another corporation who dominate their “traditional business” space of bathroom equipment, they are another company who can find synergies between the industrial processes they already use – and the ones that can be applied to the manufacturing of ceramic fuel cell stacks. These newcomers will have a way to go until they’re at the same stage as the current ENE-FARM manufacturers. But while JX, Toshiba, Panasonic, and Aisin may be the only shows in town right now, it won’t stay that way.