The steady flow of money from the world’s leading industrial and engineering companies into the clean energy economy gained momentum this week, with South Korean steel-making powerhouse Posco boosting its stake FuelCell Energy Inc, a US manufacturer of fuel-cell power plants; while US chemical giant DuPont joined the Stanford University-based Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP), an industry partnership that supports innovative research on sustainable energy technologies with low greenhouse gas emissions.
Bloomberg reports that shares in FuelCell made their biggest gain in more than two weeks on Monday– climbing 7.3 per cent to $1.61 a share at the close in New York – after the world’s third-largest steelmaker agreed to increase its stake and placed the company’s biggest order. Posco will pay $30 million for 20 million shares of FuelCell and has agreed to buy 120MW of power plants, the Connecticut-based FuelCell said in a statement. FuelCell will also accelerate deliveries on Posco’s previous 70MW order.
Speaking to analysts and investors via conference call, FuelCell CEO Chip Bottone said the backing from Posco provided “a consistent level of production for many years,” adding that it created a “certainty of demand” that facilitated manufacturing efficiencies. And like a lot of clean emerging technology companies, these are two things that FuelCell really needs.
According to data compiled by Bloomberg, FuelCell hasn’t reported an annual profit since 1997, and has lost more than $US718 million million over the past decade. For its most recent quarter ending January 31, FuelCell reported a loss of $6.7 million, or 5 cents a share, slightly better that its $11.7 million loss a year earlier. Sales climbed 12 per cent to $US31.3 million.
The companies expect to complete the share purchase in April, giving Posco a 22 per cent stake in FuelCell. Posco currently owns 10.8 million shares and is its largest holder.
As for DuPont, its move to back GCEP will see it join the project’s founding sponsors – ExxonMobil, GE, Schlumberger and Toyota – who, according to Nanowerk News, have invested a combined total of $US113 million in 93 research programs since the 2002 launch. The project’s key research areas include solar and bio-energy technology, combustion efficiency, carbon sequestration and power grids.
“The work at GCEP is closely aligned with our focus… on addressing technology-based needs in fields such as solar energy, second-generation biofuels and energy storage,” said Steven Freilich, director of materials science and engineering for DuPont Central Research and Development. “We feel the breadth of study and the unique caliber and collaborative nature of GCEP will further enable DuPont science to deliver sustainable solutions today and into the future.”
Each year, GCEP invites proposals from researchers at Stanford and other institutions to address specific energy challenges – just under one third of all GCEP awards so far have gone to non-Stanford researchers, from 34 different institutions in the US, Australia, China, Japan and Europe. As well as financial support, the project’s corporate sponsors are expected to provide technical expertise, as well as business advice on how to accelerate the deployment and commercialisation of successful technologies.
“Among GCEP’s primary goals is to keep the innovation pipeline filled with high-risk, high-impact technologies that could significantly improve energy conversion efficiency and lower cost over the next 50 years,” said Schlumberger Vice President Rod Nelson, chair of the GCEP management committee. “DuPont’s team of outstanding scientists and engineers will provide valuable insights on promising research opportunities that could transform the global energy system. We welcome them to the team and look forward to their contributions.”