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Fuel Cells


Fuel cells are a promising new technology which produces clean energy -- the only emissions are pure water vapor and heat. Electricity is produced from hydrogen, which is obtained from renewable or non-renewable sources. This technology is still mostly in the development stage, and commercial applications are expected soon. Typical uses include powering homes, electric vehicles, and even providing the source energy for power plants. Fuel cells have the potential to dramatically improve air quality by reducing toxic emissions currently generated by petroleum-burning cars and power plants.

While fuel cells are clean burning, it's not clear to me whether they are truly sustainable. While it's true that hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe (which is the mantra you hear from the fuel cell companies), right now fuel cell companies seem to prefer non-renewable sources for their hydrogen such as natural gas and petroleum. (And see other problems with natural gas.) Of course, fuel cells are still in their infancy, and there are many potential sources of hydrogen. From Ballard Power's website:

Hydrogen can be produced in large amounts from primary energy sources, such as fossil fuels (coal, oil, or natural gas), from a variety of chemical intermediates (refinery products, ammonia, methanol) and from alternative resources such as biomass, biogas, and waste materials. Hydrogen can also be produced by water electrolysis, which uses electricity to split hydrogen and oxygen elements.

Also, be aware that many of these companies may have (or may soon have) military contracts. DCH, for example, says that 5-10% of its company's business is military-related, although it doesn't directly sell to the Defense Department. FCEL says it has contracts with the Department of Defense.

All of the companies listed below have information on their websites about how fuel cell technology works. Here are some more resources for information about fuel cells and the companies making them:

1. Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Investor
Fuel Cells 2000
Union of Concerned Scientists' report on fuel cell-powered cars
American Methanol Institute
California Air Resources Board

A further extensive source of reference material is a book entitled "Fuel Cell Systems", Editor Leo J.M.J. Blomen, Publisher Plenum Press, ISBN: 0-306-44158-6.

Here are some companies we found who are involved with developing fuel cell technology.

-- Editor, 1-00

AVA - Avista Labs

Avista Corporation is a diversified energy services company that operates through four lines of business: Energy Delivery, Generation and Resources, National Energy Trading and Marketing, and Non-Energy. Energy Delivery provides electricity and natural gas distribution and transmission services in a 26,000 square mile area in eastern Washington and northern Idaho with a population of approximately 825,000. (Yahoo, 2-00) The company is also involved with fuel cells. An investment by Bill Gates caused the stock to shoot to $68 on 1-24-00, just days after its 52-week low of $2.50.

BLDP - Ballard Power

Ballard Power Systems makes fuel cells which convert natural gas, methanol, or hydrogen fuel into electricity with no combustion and no pollution. (See the problems with natural gas.) (MBJ, 12-99)

DaimlerChrysler owns 18.46% of the outstanding common shares and Ford Motor Company owns 13.85%. (Ballard's Management Proxy Circular, April 30, 2000)

MDRA.PK - Medra Corporation

DCH Technology became Medra Corporation. Dive to ten percent of DCH's business was military related, although it didn't sell directly sell to the Defense Department. (From the company's website, 12-99). It's unclear if Medra Corporation has any military-related business.

DTE - DTE Energy

DTE Energy Company is a holding company with no operations of its own, holding instead, directly or indirectly, the stock of Detroit Edison, its principal operating subsidiary, and other subsidiaries engaged in energy-related businesses (including Plug Power). (Yahoo!, 5-00)

ENER - Energy Conversion Devices

ECD makes solar panels, batteries for electric vehicles, and data storage products for computers. I have one of their solar panels and it works great. They're also involved with fuel cells. Texaco, the third-largest U.S. oil company, bought a 20% stake in ENER in June 2000. (MBJ)

FCEL - Fuel Cell Energy

Company has contracts with the Department of Defense. Its website lists the Navy as a partner. Appears to have acquired Energy Research Corp. (going to ERC's site now automatically redirects to Fuel Cell's), and some of ERC's products are used in weapons systems. (MBJ)

HOKU - Hoku Scientific, Inc.

Focuses on fuel cells, but is also involved in solar energy. (RS, 6-08)

HYGS - Hydrogenics

Hydrogenics Corporation designs, develops and manufactures proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell automated test stations. Its test stations are used to aid in the design, development and manufacture of PEM fuel cell systems. A PEM fuel cell system is a power generator that produces electricity through an electrochemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen with the principal by-products being heat and water. A PEM fuel cell system is comprised of three major sets of components: a hydrogen fuel processor, which derives hydrogen from fuels such as propane or natural gas; a fuel cell or stack of fuel cells; and power conditioning equipment, which regulates the type and level of power transferred from the fuel cell. The other components and subsystems of a fuel cell system are known as the "balance of plant" of a fuel cell system. (Yahoo, 5-01)

IDA - IdaCorp

A holding company with its tentacles in traditional power (Idaho Power Company), affordable housing, hydroelectric power, and most notably fuel cells with IdaTech. (RS, 6-08)

MAG - MagneTek

MagneTek, Inc. makes electronic and electrical products used in data processing and telecommunications, building and factory automation, lighting and other markets. MagneTek's primary product lines include power supplies, lighting ballasts and motor drives. (Yahoo!, 5-00) They also make "digital-electronic power conditioners," which convert the direct current produced by the fuel cells into the alternating current required to run lights and industrial robots. (TheStreet.com, 5-00)

MDTL - Medis Technologies

Has developed a portable fuel cell device to power personal electronics. (RS, 6-08)

MCEL - Millennium Cell

Millennium Cell Inc. is an emerging technology company engaged in the development of a patented alternative energy source based on boron chemistry, generating energy in the form of hydrogen or electricity. (Yahoo, 1-01)

MHTX - Manhattan Scientifics Inc.

From the company's website: "Capable of being produced in economical mile-long, thin, printed sheets (much like printed circuits), [our] Micro Fuel Cells may eventually obsolete small batteries. Better, smaller, less-costly, environmentally safe, and much more efficient, the patented technologies of the methanol-based Micro Fuel Cell are expected to drive a digital cellular telephone on standby for 6 months as opposed to 2 weeks with lithium ion batteries. In addition, the Micro Fuel Cell will, when developed, provide 1 week of talk time instead of the current 5 hours that lithium ion battery-powered cell phones now provide." (1999) Note: A May 2000 press release on the company website says that they're developing fuel cells for use by the U.S. Army in communications equipment. As of May-08, the stock has become a penny stock.

One of our readers writes: "MHTX has a 900 million market cap, appears controlled by an offshore investment company, and has no employees. The entire 'company' is basically one guy working on an idea, without manufacturing capabilities, with the idea of licensing a technology that is unlikely to work. The unfortunate thing is that he has apparently sold his soul to a shell company, and would be a terrible situation for green folks to accidentally stumble upon." (1999)

MKTY - Mechanical Technology

An energy incubator that owns about 31% of Plug Power and a big chunk of SatCon. (MBJ 5-00, 11-00)

MOD - Modine Manufacturing

Makes thermal management products with various applications, including fuel cells. (RS, 6-08)

PLUG - Plug Power

Plug Power is partially owned by General Electric, the largest producer of jet engines for military aircraft. GE is also involved in nuclear energy. (See shareholders' concern about this mentioned on GE's website.) Plug Power is mostly owned by Mechanical Technology (MKTY, above) and DTE, which own 31.5% each. Plug is also partially owned by Satcon. (MBJ 11-00)

QTWW - Quantum Technologies

Makes fuel cells for fuel cell-powered vehicles. They also design technologies for solar and hybrid cars. However, they do have contracts with the military. (RS, 6-08)

SATC - SatconTechnology

Makes components and peripheral equipment for fuel cells, microturbines and related things. In other words, it wins if the technologies succeed, regardless of which company ends up selling the actual generators. (from TheStreet.com, 5-00)

UQM - UQM Technologies

According to their site, they develop "electric power systems for battery electric, hybrid electric and fuel cell electric vehicles." (RS, 6-08)

UTX - United Technologies

UTX has four principal operating segments: Otis (elevators and escalators), Carrier (heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems), Pratt and Whitney (aircraft engines and space propulsion [including military products]), Flight Systems (helicopters electrical systems). (Yahoo!, 5-00) They also have an International Fuel Cells operation. (TheStreet.com, 5-00)

Other Companies

HPOW - H Power Corporation

[In Dec. 2004 I noticed that their symbol was no longer listed and the web address I had for them no longer worked.] H Power Corp. is a fuel cell development company, and believes that it was the first to complete a commercial sale of proton-exchange membrane, or PEM, fuel cell systems. The Company is now offering for sale five portable and mobile fuel cell systems ranging in power from 35 watts to 250 watts under the trade name PowerPEM. These products are designed as battery substitutes and power sources for potential applications ranging from traffic systems to golf carts to consumer devices.

PWREQ.pk - Ocean Power

In June 2008, I noticed it was no longer trading. Ocean Power makes mass-produced seawater desalination systems, powered by fuell cells. These systems purify water for drinking. (Note: as of 5-08, trading below a penny)

Proton Energy Systems

[In Dec. 2004 I noticed their stock symbol was no longer listed and they didn't list a new one on their website.] PRTN designs, develop and manufactures proton exchange membrance, or PEM, electrochemical products that are employed in hydrogen generating devices and regenerative fuel cell systems. (Yahoo, 1-01)

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