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You can’t go anywhere these days without hearing about fuel cells. While the technology is still at least several years away from full commercialization, some experts estimate that the market potential could be anywhere from $9 billion to $95 billion by 2010 (see the article on pp. 35-39).
How do you make the most of a potential $95 billion market?
Find a partner. Better yet, find several partners. According to John Hanway, manager of Distribution Channels Management for IBM Global Services, a company with over 45,000 business partners, “When a company finds a partner that can package an offering with their own, there is a win-win scenario that brings value to the end-user customer.”1
A number of organizations are being formed to promote strategic partnerships in fuel cells. For instance, Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp., one of the biggest developers of solid oxide fuel cells, recently established the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Commercialization Association (SOCA) to foster the development and commercialization of tubular SOFC technology. Through SOCA, companies engaged in energy-related businesses voluntarily coordinate their efforts to assist in the development of products and applications of interest to the power generation industry based on tubular SOFC technology. SOCA is also designed to foster information exchange between interested companies on potential distributed power generation applications for commercial SOFC products.
Commercial developers, universities, government agencies and national laboratories have also begun partnering through the Department of Energy’s Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) program, which is dedicated to “jump-starting competitive, commercial solid oxide fuel cell production while attacking existing barriers to their development.” Participants range from materials suppliers, such as NexTech Materials, to manufacturers of fuel cells and components, such as Honeywell and Siemens Westinghouse, as well as Argonne National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the University of Missouri-Rolla and the National Fuel Cell Research Center.
For ceramic manufacturers, partnering with potential end users can be crucial to gaining a solid foothold in this fast-changing market. But it will be just as important, if not more so, to partner with material and equipment suppliers as the industry continues to evolve. Many suppliers are investing heavily in research and development efforts to create new materials and technologies that will help drive the advancement and commercialization of fuel cells. Establishing strategic partnerships with these companies early on can help ensure that your company stays at the front of the technological race. Existing relationships with suppliers can also provide significant advantages—in many cases, suppliers are more than willing to work closely with you to develop customized solutions to your manufacturing challenges.
Whether your company is pursuing fuel cells, electronic ceramics or the more traditional markets, you have one other loyal partner as well—Ceramic Industry. As the markets change and new technologies are introduced, we will continue to provide information you can use to remain competitive. Together, we can help ensure that the ceramic industry remains a viable industry in the 21st century and beyond.