Special-Edition Viewpoints Address The Pandemic Crisis

In the wake of the covid-19 pandemic, pathways and opportunities in technology commercialization are undergoing dramatic transformation on many fronts. To address Explorer clients' urgent need to understand both the near- and longer-term impacts, we are providing a special set of analyses for May and June about the pandemic's impact on technology commercialization. Because the developments we describe affect multiple technologies, we have organized our standard Technology Areas into six consequential technology domains. (Read the full announcement about these special analyses.)

  • The May 2020 documents identify a wide range of key forces that will likely have a major influence on prospects for the six technology domains, imagining a plausible range of alternative outcomes that these forces could have during the coming five to ten years. These outcomes serve as building blocks for creating effective responses to the pandemic.
  • The June 2020 documents provide a scenarios-based analysis for each of the six technology domains, with emphasis on how the key uncertain forces might interact with and influence commercialization pathways in alternative postpandemic futures. Also available is a special presentation—The Pandemic Crisis: Scenarios for the Future of Technology Development—summarizing the scenarios and their implications for the six technology domains.

We encourage clients to engage with all six special-edition Viewpoints in both May and June to gain a broad view of potential changes and opportunities in technology commercialization. Please contact us if you do not already have access to all six technology domains, and we will be happy to provide you with the remaining articles in the collection.

Viewpoints

Archived Viewpoints

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About This Technology

Fuel cells produce electricity with greater efficiency, less noise, and far less pollution than combustion technologies do because the cells convert chemical energy directly into electrical energy. Fuel cells are also modular, enabling construction of almost any size power plant and simple expansion of existing facilities. New fuel-cell systems are proving themselves to be reliable, and their efficiency is relatively high even at low load levels and in small systems. Most fuel-cell types can operate on hydrogen. Internal or external fuel-processing systems are necessary to enable use of hydrocarbon fuels in most low-temperature fuel cells (direct-methanol fuel cells are one exception) or to enable use of complex hydrocarbon fuels in high-temperature fuel cells. In the long term, fuel cells might play an important role in an energy system that relies heavily on carbon-free or carbon-neutral fuels and energy cycles.

Fuel cells have provided electric power for some orbiting space vehicles but are not yet economically competitive for widespread commercial terrestrial use because of high capital costs. Development and early commercialization of market-entry products for portable power, remote power, and small1-scale distributed or on-site power generation are under way. Some companies have begun expanding commercial sales of fuel-cell systems for stationary-power applications. Fuel-cell-powered portable electronic devices began to enter the market in 2009. Heavy investment by a few automobile manufacturers has also spurred rapid growth in R&D for transportation applications and produced some impressive demonstration vehicles. However, the cost of fuel-cell cars, the lack of a hydrogensupply infrastructure, and market competition from hybrid and electric vehicles have hindered significant fuel-cell car sales.

Fuel cells have attracted wide interest not only for their potential environmental benefits but also for their potential to change traditional ways of doing business. For example, fuel cells may give naturalgas producers and distributors a way to become electricity providers. Traditional electric utilities may be able to avoid transmission and distribution costs by going to a distributed-generation model. The smart-grid concept may create an entirely new business model for energy-service providers. Other companies may simply see new sources of competition. For example, battery producers and companies that provide remote or emergency power systems, such as diesel generators, may see competition from fuel cells. At the same time, fuel cells may enable new technologies. For example, fuel cells may offer a way to power next-generation systems for military applications in remote areas. Should fuel cells find wide use, they would represent a new market for materials suppliers, equipment manufacturers, and even companies with software for process simulation and control. Membrane manufacturers, catalyst companies, and suppliers of specialized components such as power electronics may all see new markets emerge for their products.