The hydrogen economy represents an envisioned future in which hydrogen is readily used as a source of clean energy. Hydrogen can be used to generate power using either fuel cells or combustion. Both processes are clean and do not generate any carbon emissions. However, the same cannot be said about hydrogen production, and nearly all commercially produced hydrogen is currently generated using fossil fuels. Cleaner forms of hydrogen exist but are relatively expensive. Coupled with the fact that hydrogen is also a relatively weak energy carrier, makes the process a somewhat less attractive fossil fuel alternative. Nevertheless, several unique use cases, such as renewable energy storage, on-site industrial power generation, and long-range mobility make hydrogen relevant in addressing the climate crisis.
Clean Hydrogen is the most active segment in the industry followed by Next-Gen Hydrogen Distribution, Hydrogen Fuel Cells, and Hydrogen Vehicles while Low-Carbon Hydrogen represents the segment with the fewest number of startups. The lack of growth-stage startups represents the nascent status of the industry with commercial applications only starting to gradually emerge.
The presence of a higher number of seed-stage startups suggests that these technologies are somewhat proven and the industry could heat up over the next few years as these companies go to market. There is also evidence of vertical expansion along the value chain with some clean hydrogen startups leveraging their electrolyzer technology to produce fuel cells and vice versa and also some clean hydrogen and hydrogen vehicle startups complementing their products with expansions into hydrogen distribution.
Disruptors in the neobanks space mainly comprise players providing digital banking services to individuals (B2C). The highest-funded disruptors, including Nubank, Revolut, and Chime, also primarily center their services around individual checking or savings accounts. Additionally, there are some consumer-focused neobanks that focus specifically on providing credit-related products, including Avant and Upgrade. Although most neobanks are concentrating on the B2C space, some players, such as Nubank, Revolut, and Starling Bank, have recently placed their efforts on establishing a presence in the B2B segment as well.
Established pure players operating in the B2B segment include BlueVine, Tide Bank, Qonto, Grasshopper, and Rho. Similar to the B2C segment, most disruptors in this space focus on providing digital banking products, although a few players such as BlueVine and Grasshopper also provide credit-related products.
Almost all neobanks remain privately funded as of August 2021, with the exception of MoneyLion, which went public via a SPAC in February 2021. However, Nubank has announced plans to go public via an IPO in the US, with the transaction expected to be finalized in late 2021 or early 2022.
Canada-based Hydra Energy offers Hydrogen-as-a-Service for commercial fleets. The company sources hydrogen from chemical partners and then purifies and compresses it for distribution. The company converts semi-truck fleets to its proprietary hydrogen injection system in exchange for long-term, discounted fuel contracts. As of May 2021, the company had road-tested modified trucks on commercial routes, covering more than 124,000 miles.
As of June 2021, Hydra Energy also has an ongoing hydrogen capture pilot project at a chemical plant in British Columbia, carried out in partnership with Chemtrade (entered into in February 2021), a provider of industrial chemicals and services.
In May 2021, the company announced plans for commercialization of its services in late 2021. The company plans to start providing its hydrogen conversion kits to truck fleets and hydrogen (at a 5% discount to diesel costs) in late 2021.
In May 2021, Hydra Energy raised CAD 15 million (USD 12 million) in a Series A funding round from Just Business to further develop its plant in British Columbia, fueling infrastructure, and conversion kits.
Next-gen Hydrogen Distribution:
Several clean hydrogen and hydrogen-focussed fuel cell pioneers such as Ballard Power Systems, Plug Power, and NEL Hydrogen are already generating around USD 100 million or more in annual revenue. Almost all of these companies have developed their core technology in-house over years in operation. All of these companies, however, have yet to turn a profit.
Leading fossil-fuel based hydrogen (grey hydrogen) suppliers such as Linde, Air Liquide, and Air Products are also gradually decarbonizing their operations through low-carbon or clean hydrogen processes. Oil and gas majors such as BP, Shell, Eni, and Total Energies also have several ongoing clean hydrogen projects as a part of their sustainability commitments.
Automobile companies such as Toyota and Hyundai lead the hydrogen fuel cell electric (FCEV) space while Airbus is planning on developing the first hydrogen powered commercial aircraft.
Canada-based Ballard Power Systems (Ballard) is a global leader in proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell applications. Ballard was founded in 1979 and has been listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and NASDAQ since 1993 and 1995, respectively.
Ballard’s main focus is on fuel cell applications for heavy-duty vehicles such as buses, trucks, trains, and marine crafts. The Heavy-Duty Motive segment (which includes heavy-duty vehicle applications) accounted for around 46% of Ballard’s revenue in 2020. Ballard also provides fuel cell applications for material handling (e.g. forklifts) and backup power which accounted for around 10% of revenue. Additionally, Ballard provides several technology solutions, including fuel cell engineering services, technology licensing, and components, which collectively account for 44% of revenue.
Ballard’s three key markets are China, Europe, and California which account for 52%, 35%, and 8% of revenue, respectively. In China, Ballard has primarily operated through a joint venture (JV) with Weichai Power, a Chinese state-owned powertrain manufacturer, since 2018. The JV operates a two-gigawatt fuel cell manufacturing facility in Weifang. As of December 2020, the company reported powering around 45% of total fuel cell electric vehicles in China including over 1,030 buses, 2,220 trucks, and the world’s first fuel cell-powered commercial tram line.
In Europe, Ballard reported a market share of around 80% as of December 2020 through partnerships with Wrightbus, Solaris, and Vanhool that have deployed 225 fuel cell electric buses across 17 cities. The company has also teamed up with Siemens in Germany and HydroFLEX in the UK to develop hydrogen passenger train projects while also maintaining a partnership with ABB to develop fuel cell systems for marine applications.
In California, Ballard has partnered with OCTA, AC Transit, and Sunline to deploy 37 fuel cell electric busses, accounting for a market share of around 95% as of December 2020. The company has also partnered with Kenworth, REV, UPS, BAE Systems, and Linamar to develop fuel cell electric trucks.
Ballard reported revenue of USD 103.9 million (a decrease of 1.7% year-over-year) and an operating loss of USD 39.8 million in 2020.