Fuel Cell Seminar:
More Marketing, Some Sales, Steady-State Atmospherics at Industry Gathering
PALM SPRINGS, CA - For David Jollie, the unexpected vision of seeing a fellow Brit fuel cell executive on his hotel TV screen first thing in the morning was one of the more noteworthy - and telling - incidents of the 2005 Fuel Cell Seminar here.
In the Hyatt, if you went to Channel 19, you got a Voller Energy commercial, recalled Jollie, manager of Fuel Cell Today Consulting, in an interview with H&FCL just before flying back to London.
It is truly bizarre to see Stephen Voller (on the hotel TV screen). It normally doesnt happen when Im in bed in the morning, Jollie added drily. Voller Energy is a UK-based maker of portable fuel cells.
At the same time, it says something about the new, and different, approaches to getting the message out to sell. As a different approach to marketing, it is very practical in terms of we would like to sell some products - type approach, he added. It is quite interesting.
Reporting a few sales, Voller was, perhaps a bit more so than others, an example of the positive side of the ledger of the atmospherics at the Seminar which Jollie described as neither outright jubilant nor clearly pessimistic but as sort of sideways.
Another bit of more aggressive than normal marketing came from PolyFuel, the California-based maker of engineered hydrocarbon fuel cell membranes. Anybody who was staying in a conference hotel had a PolyFuel flyer delivered to his room every day, said Jollie.
More Buzz at Grove, More Mix at Seminar
The Seminar had a different feel than the Grove Fuel Cell Symposium, the other main industry event, in London two months ago (H&FCL Nov. 05), said Kerry-Ann Adamson, Fuel Cell Todays editor, who attended the Seminar for the first time. At the Grove, there was more of a buzz about it, maybe because it was smaller, she told H&FCL. Here, at the Seminar, people were coming to the stand saying, yeah, we like what you are doing, and then leave. At the Grove they talk to you a lot more.
Also at the Grove, people who wanted to get into the fuel cell industry or who had a problem that they thought they could solve with fuel cells came by and chatted, she said.
At the Seminar, there certainly was more of a mix of people in the exhibit hall, a broader spectrum of people, she added. There were a lot of teachers.
2008 Launch Date
Generally speaking, the feeling was one of up in some areas and down in others, Jollie believes. Some people were positive in some areas, particularly portables.
This was also evident in talking to a couple of Asian manufacturers Jollie spoke with about possible commercialization dates. 2008 was a widely used number, recalls Jollie.
One telling example was the visit of a Hitachi representative to the Fuel Cell Today stand which, among other things, had a year-old picture of a fuel cell-powered Hitachi PDA (personal digital assistant). The guy came over and just sort of laughed, and then showed us an example of the next generation mobile phone, Jollie explained, including a methanol fuel cartridge in the shape of a ballpoint pen which Hitachi hopes to sell for about 50 cents.
In the past, they would have kept it inside a case, and you wouldnt have been allowed to take a picture of it, said Jollie. This time, they were very open about it, showing it off.
But there was also some plain talk about what was needed to move fuel cells forward. One such presentation came from Christine Bergeron, vice president for investments at Chrysalix Energy, the Vancouver, BC-based early stage venture capital firm. Bergeron, as recapitulated by Jollie, said that while Green is Good, the mainstream interest among venture capitalists is profitability. Case in point is that in its second round of financing, Chrysalix is no longer limiting itself to fuel cells but is turning more into a clean energy venture technology fund.
I think that shows some of the problems of getting fuel cells into the main stream, said Jollie by way of explanation. Its not that they are not making progress, but so far relatively few people have got into that main stream.
To Jollie, the very number of things to cover - two plenary sessions, three technical sessions side by side, training sessions, individual talks - made conference coverage somewhat challenging. I think it was more than last year, he said. It makes it quite difficult to get a sense of the whole spectrum of what went on.