The fuel-cell industry, estimated to be worth a total of $3.6 billion in 2016, is expected to blossom into a $25.5 billion market by 2024, according to research from Global Markets Insight.

Yet, despite these bullish projections, major players such as Plug Power Inc. (PLUG) and FuelCell Energy Inc. (FCEL) have failed to turn a significant profit, seeing their stock slump 72% and 78%, respectively, over the course of 2016.

Uncertainty Looms

As part of the alternative-energy sector, fuel-cell companies saw their stocks peak during the emerging market hype in 2014. Despite the boom—with significant investment expenditures including R&D, and without the same government incentives for hydrogen and fuel companies as solar and wind power firms—players such as Plug Power and FuelCell have been unable to generate profitability. It’s still up in the air whether the 30% investment tax credit will be extended for fuel-cell companies, indicating a possible surge in prices in 2017. With oil prices at all time lows, this increase won’t fare well for fuel-cell firms.

To further aggravate the issue, the surprise election of Donald Trump looms over alternative energy. The Republican president-elect is an outspoken climate-change skeptic who during the campaign promised to “bring back” traditional industries like as coal mining.

Looking Abroad for Growth

With Trump in power in 2017, it’s unlikely that fuel-cell energy companies will make strides in the domestic market. But firms such as Plug Power see China as a major avenue for growth, indicating the country has invested $100 billion in fuel-cell energy thus far. Despite the market opportunity, an increase in global rivals has made it more difficult for companies to stand out against the competition. (See also: Plug Power Looks to China for Growth.)

Fuel-cell energy, and hydrogen as a segment of the market, have proved a viable, clean and sustainable energy option as organizations worldwide transition away from polluting sources such as oil and gas. Despite this long-term outlook, in the short-term investors are skeptical whether the current market players are on track to swing to profitability with a sustainable business model. (See also: Renewable Energy Suffers from Trump Win.)


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