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Hydro invests in new fuel cell technology

September 15, 2005, 01:00 CEST

Hydro Technology Ventures has invested in a company developing a new membrane for fuel cells. The new technology can significantly drop the cost of fuel cells and give the fledgling fuel cell industry a whole new platform for developing systems.

“We believe the market is waiting for a cheaper fuel cell and this can be a very good investment,” says Dag Øvrebø, technical manager in Hydro’s investment company Technology Ventures.

“Hydro has been in close contact with the different fuel cell research environments for quite some time. After thorough analysis and evaluations, we believe the US company SuperProtonic can produce cutting-edge solutions for the development of cost-effective fuel cell membranes,” he comments.

SuperProtonic is sitauted in the area around CalTech in California. Work with this new technology is still in an early phase, and some development work remains before the first prototype is ready.

The goal is to establish the technology as the preferred industry standard for fuel cell membranes. Hydro Technology Ventures is one of six investors in the new technology and has led the work to establish SuperProtonic.

The other investors are OnPoint; the U.S. Army's venture fund; Nth Power; CMEA; Innovation Valley Partners and Batelle Ventures. The key to this new technology is a membrane that can operate at high temperatures and conduct protons without the use of water, and additionally reduce platinum use.

Expensive fuel cells
Today’s fuel cells are very expensive. Subsequently cars powered by fuel cells are not yet ready for the personal automobile market. Costs are presently about USD 3,000 per kilowatt (kw).

For fuel cells to be competitive with today’s car motors requires dropping costs to some USD 50 per kw.

Lower costs are critical to making fuel cells feasible for use in the transport sector.

 

 A hydrogen fuel cell can achieve fuel efficieny of about 40 percent. In comparison, a small diesel motor operates at about 25 percent efficiency under normal conditions.

“Hydro has a 100 year long tradition for finding new solutions within the energy sector. If this technology can contribute to lowering fuel cell costs by as much as we hope, the way towards a hydrogen society will be a good deal shorter,” Alexandra Bech Gjørv, director of New Energy in Hydro.

FACTS:
Fuel cells central to future energy systems

  • The fuel cell will most likely play a central role in future energy systems. A large part of the fuel in a fuel cell converts to energy, which can power an electric motor.

  • Chemical energy transforms into electric energy in a fuel cell, through an electro-chemical process. Fuel cells have high operational reliability and low noise levels because the energy transformation process occurs without moving parts.

  • Fuel cells have traditionally been used in areas where price is of relatively little significance, for example, space travel.