VIEW, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--May 4, 2005--The
president of U.S.-based PolyFuel, Inc. warned last
week that U.S. companies are in danger of completely
missing the boat in micro-power fuel cells through
a sheer lack of market awareness. Micro-power fuel
cells are an emerging technology -- the subject
of considerable interest in Europe, Japan, Korea,
and elsewhere in Asia -- that are expected by technologists
in those countries to supplant or replace batteries
in increasingly power-hungry portable devices such
as laptops and mobile phones. He made these remarks
at a conference focused on Small Fuel Cells that
took place last week in Washington, D.C.
"We continue to be astonished that most thought and market leaders
in the U.S. are indifferent to, or completely unaware of, the substantive
and growing investment being made in Asia -- and more recently
in Europe -- in the development of small, portable fuel cells,
and the widespread awareness in those markets -- even with the
person on the street -- of the technology and its promise," said
Jim Balcom, PolyFuel president and CEO. "It's like all of us who
care anything about this market domestically are in this room."
Micro-power fuel cells utilize replaceable fuel -- typically methanol
-- that in the presence of catalysts and a carefully engineered
membrane -- produce enough electricity to power small electronic
devices such as mobile phones, PDAs, or portable computers. What
makes them attractive is the promise of more power and longer run
times than is available from conventional batteries.
Balcom said that the Japanese and Koreans are especially sensitive
to what some have called the "coming power crisis" in portable
electronics. "You can walk into most movie theaters in Japan and
find banks of public charging stations for cell phones. And the
Japanese have coined the term 'power-eater' to describe personal
electronic devices that gobble up power like they were connected
to the mains. It's no wonder that portable fuel cells were the
cover story in a recent issue of Nikkei Electronics Asia. But here,
the silence is almost deafening."
Balcom attributes part of the current lack of awareness of the
coming market need to a several-year lag in consumer technology
adoption in the U.S. versus Asia and Europe. "Watching broadcast
video on a cell phone -- a perfect example of a 'power-eater' application
-- is one of the 'next big things' desired by the Tokyo 'salaryman'," said
Balcom, "but here we're mostly just talking."
Balcom, whose company PolyFuel makes what many insiders consider
to be the most advanced membrane for methanol fuel cells, lives
with this disconnect on a daily basis. "The interest in our membrane
is so high in Asia -- and increasingly in Europe -- that it dominates
our activities. We are already working with a number of major Japanese
and Korean manufacturers, and we expect prototypes to be available
within the next 12 to 24 months. I fear, however, that by the time
the trendy applications take root here in the U.S., the design
and manufacture of micro-power fuel cells will be firmly entrenched
offshore. That ship will have sailed. In North America, only those
of us with critical enabling technology will participate." This
scenario, said Balcom, is not unlike that of Lithium ion batteries,
whose technologies were predominantly developed in the U.S. but
commercialized first in Japan.
What is needed in the U.S., said Balcom, is greatly increased
market awareness. "The portable fuel cell market is going to happen,
and it going to happen in the next two to three years," he maintained. "The
press, analysts, and relevant business planners have to start connecting
the dots -- to see that what is happening now with Japanese consumers
can lead to huge U.S. market opportunities. They also have to realize
that the technological challenges -- like better membranes -- or
regulatory ones -- like permitting methanol cartridges on commercial
aircraft -- are being knocked off one by one. Now, it's time to
become attuned to the market opportunities, start talking about
them, and to say 'nay' to the naysayers."
Finally, Balcom cautioned that too narrow of a market focus can
also leave us waiting at the dock. "The holy grail in fuel cells
is an automotive design that with electric motors can eliminate
the need for internal combustion engines in cars or other vehicles,
without any decrease in vehicle performance or increase in price.
The expertise gained from developing portable fuel cells will be
directly applicable to the designs, materials, and manufacturing
processes necessary for stationary or automotive fuel cells, and
can even, perhaps, provide transferable economies of scale." Balcom
predicted that the leading suppliers to the automotive fuel cell
market, when it emerges, will be those suppliers that "paid their
dues" in portable cells.
PolyFuel is a world leader in engineered membranes that provide
breakthrough performance in fuel cells for portable electronic
and automotive applications. The state of the art of fuel cells
is essentially that of the membrane, and PolyFuel's leading-edge,
hydrocarbon-based membranes enable a new generation of fuel cells
that for the first time can deliver on the long-awaited promise
of clean, long-running, and cost-effective portable power, based
upon renewable energy sources.
PolyFuel's unmatched capability to rapidly translate the system-level
requirements of fuel cell designers and manufacturers into engineered
polymer nano-architectures has led to its introduction of best-in-class
hydrocarbon membranes for both portable direct methanol fuel cells
(DMFC) and for automotive hydrogen fuel cells. Such capability
-- based on PolyFuel's over 165 combined years of fuel cell experience,
world-class polymer nano-architects, and a fundamental patent position
covering more than 15 different inventions -- also makes PolyFuel
an essential development partner and supplier to any company seeking
to advance the state of the art in fuel cells. Polymer electrolyte
fuel cells built with PolyFuel membranes can be smaller, lighter,
longer-running, more efficient, less expensive and more robust
than those made with other membrane materials.
PolyFuel was spun out of SRI International (formerly Stanford
Research Institute) in 1999, after 14 years of applied membrane
research. The company is based in Mountain View, California, and
is privately held. Investors include Mayfield, Ventures West, CDP
Capital -- Private Equity, Technology Partners, Intel Capital,
Chrysalix Energy, Conduit Ventures, KTB Ventures, Hotung Venture
Partners, Yasuda Enterprise Development, and BiNEXT, a part of
the Daesung Group.
Note: All trademarks and registered trademarks are those
of their respective companies.
Additional background information is available at www.roeder-johnson.com .