Fuel Cells and Advanced Batteries Vie for Portable Power Market

Fuel Cells and Advanced Batteries Vie for Portable Power Market By Catherine Lacoursiere March 01, 2006 Being an urban road warrior, one that jumps from wi-fi café to wi-fi café with laptop and/or PDA in hand, I am anxiously awaiting the commercialization of the portable fuel cell for consumer electronics. The competition for the electric socket among the growing wi-fi population is becoming intense. The prospect of plugging in a five-dollar fuel cell cartridge with 12 hours of continuous power is a welcome alternative. John Giolli, chief financial officer of Millenium Cell (NASDAQ: MCEL) informs me that that day is coming soon. He anticipates fuel cells used in consumer products to hit the market in 2008. Portable fuel cells are already being commercialized in military applications.

Industrial and medical markets will follow in 2007. Yet even as the date to commercialization draws closer, it is still anyone's market to take. "The competition is pretty wide open," says Bob Rose, executive director of the US Fuel Cell Council of the competing fuel cell technologies vying for a piece of the portable power market. It is a tremendously dynamic area and hard to pick a winner, says Rose. Fuel cells, advanced battery technologies and hybrid technologies all hope to supplant and/or complement the lithium ion battery.

The major competition in portable fuel cells is between hydrogen and direct methanol fuel cell technology. Direct methanol fuel cells are an earlier stage technology with a number of technical issues still to be ironed out, including low power density and efficiency. DMFC's require a more active and expensive catalyst to prevent corrosion, such as platinum. Nonetheless, it is a proven technology in portable applications and a very active area of research.

The DMFC can convert cheap liquid fuels directly to hydrogen, dispensing of the reforming unit, which also provides the potential for smaller footprints. The stock price of Polyfuel (LSE: PYF.L), a maker of membranes used in DMFCs, has been climbing steadily since its IPO last year. Zinc air fuel cells (ZAFC) also dispense of fuel reformers. Power Air Corporation (OTCBB: PWAC), which just joined the US Fuel Cell Council, is producing fuel cells for small portable battery and power generation applications.

Key advantages of zinc include its long running times and low costs due to the abundance of zinc. Hydrogen proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells are marching into military applications this year. "We are making great traction in the military and great traction in the airforce," says Millenium's Giolli. Millenium licenses its technology to companies such as Jadoo Power Systems. Jadoo sells a fuel cell power system for military surveillance equipment and video cameras. Millenium's lower-cost disposable hydrogen battery - cartridges filled with sodium borohydride--have allowed Jadoo to lower its pricing.

Next month, Jadoo plans to commercialize a cheaper power system for portable electronic equipment. The battery makers see opportunity. Duracell (GLL) and Energizer (NYSE: ENR) are making fuel cell cartridges, as is lighter maker BIC. Hybrid systems also are emerging from some very advanced portable fuel cell technology coming out of Asia. KDDI has partnered with Toshiba (TOSBF.PK) and Hitachi (HIT) to produce a cellular phone that runs on both a lithium ion battery and methanol-powered fuel cell.

Millenium envisions a similar hybrid model plugging PEM-based cartridges into laptops alongside batteries in remote locations by 2008. Given the massive resources being applied to the task, one way or another portable fuel cells will soon be powering electronic devices. How big is the market opportunity? This week, Space Review explores mining the lunar surface for platinum in asteroid fragments for use in fuel cells.

More conservatively, the US Fuel Cell Council forecasts the market to grow to over a billion dollars over the next several years. Disclaimer Catherine Lacoursiere is an independent columnist for this web site. Catherine Lacoursiere may hold long or short positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this article and those positions can change at any moment. InvestorIdeas.

com Disclaimer:, InvestorIdeas is not affiliated or compensated by the companies mentioned in this article. Catherine Lacoursiere is a freelance writer. Nothing in the articles should be construed as an offer or solicitation or recommendation to buy or sell any specific products or securities.

Past performance does not guarantee future results. .

By: Catherine Lacoursiere

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