Fuel cell round up from ProMat
Riding the wave of renewed industry optimism, fuel cell technology enjoyed a warm reception at ProMat 2011. In 2009, many lift truck dealers and customers approached the technology as a far-off experiment or had no real knowledge of the function and benefits of a hydrogen fuel cell. This year, many of the people visiting the booths of fuel cell leaders Nuvera and Plug Power understood the basics and were asking instead about the next step.
“As opposed to, ‘How do you charge it? How does it work?,’ we’re hearing, ‘How much will this cost me?’ It’s more of a buying discussion than an education,” said Teal Vivacqua, marketing communications manager for Plug Power.
Two years ago, fuel cell manufacturers could claim to have big customers in the pipeline, said Vivacqua, but now those trials have produced data and, often, installations.
“Customers have heard that BMW and Wal-Mart have tried it, so now they want to know how it might fit in their own operation,” she said.
For Nuvera, ProMat 2011 was the company’s first solo show, after having partnered with Deka Batteries for past expo appearances. Gus Block, director of marketing for Nuvera, said he was very pleasantly surprised by the volume and sentiments of his booth’s visitors.
“We didn’t necessarily know what to expect, but the response is better than anything we could have expected,” said Block, who noted forklift dealers and battery service companies expressed particular interest. “They are realizing it’s something they need to pay attention to and can make money on.”
Block said that while the economic downturn did not serve the burgeoning fuel cell market two years ago, it has since helped potential customers look at the technology from a new perspective.
“The pendulum is swinging the other way,” said Block. “There’s pent up demand. As people buy, they are saying, ‘Well, we can get batteries or we can get this new technology that has just emerged.’ It’s very exciting. The timing is there.”
In previous years, PlugPower could expect 300 leads from an appearance at ProMat, said Vivacqua.
“We had that in the first two days, and they were quality leads,” she said, noting that her total stood at 460 on the morning of the last day of exhibition. “The understanding of the commercial viability is there. With any new technology there are hurdles to conquer and questions to answer, and we are up for that game.”
Rather than any rivalry between the two companies, Vivacqua and Block agreed there is a strong partnership as each works to promote and support a growing segment of the industry.
“It’s not about PlugPower or Nuvera, it’s about fuel cell technology,” said Vivacqua, who says she had had a genial conversation with Nuvera representatives earlier at ProMat. “We need each other, OEMs and hydrogen suppliers all working together to bring down the costs and make this work.”
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ProMat 2011 will be held March 21 - 24, 2011 at McCormick Place South in Chicago. The tradeshow will showcase the latest manufacturing, distribution and supply chain solutions in the material handling and logistics industry.