Intelligent Energy reveals smart thinking behind Indian fuel cell mega-deal

Transformational £1.2bn telecom tower deal promises to cut emissions and provide the fuel cell sector with the scale it needs to bring down costs still further

If you are going to take the bold move of calling your company Intelligent Energy you need to be pretty confident that that is precisely what you are going to deliver. Thankfully, for the Loughborough-based fuel cell pioneer the past few years have provided plenty of evidence the company's technology and business model is as smart as its name implies.

"In the last two to three years we have really started to commercialise that IP we have been building up," says Dr Mark Lawson-Statham, director of corporate finance at the company, reflecting on rapid growth that has seen it expand to a 450-strong operation where revenues have soared from "next to nothing to a £70m to £80m business".

The company is now forecasting further rapid expansion over the next few years as it starts to reap the commercial rewards from over 25 years of hard work. The company dates back to the first fuel cell project at the University of Loughborough in September 1988, with Intelligent Energy officially formed as a spin-out in 2001. Speaking to BusinessGreen, Lawson-Statham recalls being quickly won over by the team's unique approach to fuel cell design. "The problem traditionally with fuel cell devices was they were always surrounded by all this other technology like heat exchangers and pumps," he explains. "When I first saw this technology - and I was a pretty cynical fund manager - it did not have the balance of plant issues everyone had been working on for years. It was very simple. The architecture was so different."

Through numerous iterations this streamlined architecture remained, providing the basis for the fuel cells that are now being deployed in consumer electronic, transport, and distributed power and generation applications.

All three of the company's divisions appear to prospering.


In the transport space, Intelligent Energy recently debuted its first fuel cell powered drone, and Lawson-Statham reveals that alongside its joint venture with Suzuki the company is working with "four of the world's largest OEMs who make over one million cars each".

"In a world post diesel-gate where people are really starting to focus on emissions we are the go-to people," he says. "We license the technology, so you can come to us and save yourself several billion dollars of R&D."

In the consumer electronics market, its portable mobile device charging unit has been followed by news that a fuel cell battery has been developed that could power an iPhone for a week. "We've been working on interesting consumer electronic technology for a long time," admits Lawson-Statham, explaining how powdered fuels in a cartridge could quickly turn into a multi-billion dollar industry. The vision is to charge people about the same as a cup of coffee for a cartridge that would remove the frustration of looking for a plug socket every day for your phone. "It would be like the bottled water industry," predicts Lawson-Statham. "More expensive than the tap, but more convenient."

However, the company's stand-out deal of the past two years, the one that promises to turn it from exciting clean tech start-up into major green infrastructure player, and the project that saw it win both Breakthrough of the Year and Technology of the Year at the recent BusinessGreen Technology Awards is its £1.2bn, 10-year deal with Indian telco GTL to provide back-up power to over 27,400 telecom towers.

The promise of a project that replaces thousands of dirty diesel generators with Intelligent Energy's sleek new "305" modular fuel cell systems is exciting enough, but the detail of the contract is even more intelligent than it first appears.

Lawson-Statham explains the deal with Intelligent Energy's wholly owned Indian subsidiary Essential Energy is not to simply replace old generators with new fuel cells, but rather to take over the running of GTL's fleet of tower generators for 10 years. Consequently, the first step was to install the company's proprietary remote asset monitoring technology across the fleet to optimise performance and operation. "We get a 20 per cent saving on existing diesel units just by optimising them," Lawson-Statham reveals.

(This news story is from Business Green)