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August 06, 2006— Ottawa, Ontario

A new NRC technology in commercialization could be the key to getting the hydrogen powered fuel cell market charged up.

 
 
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The much anticipated hydrogen-powered fuel cell revolution has a problem: the hydrogen. This clear, colourless gas can be explosive and flammable. Safety codes greatly restrict the indoor storage of pressurized hydrogen. But a unique NRC technology could soon overcome this fuel hurdle with an ingenious approach: make the hydrogen only when you need it.

"Our Hydrogen Power on Demand (HPoD) technology solves the hydrogen storage problem. There's no hydrogen in the system until you need it. It's totally on and off. You turn it on and high-purity hydrogen is produced. You turn it off and hydrogen production stops. It's totally safe," says Dr. Dave Ghosh, Director of Science and Technology at the NRC Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation (NRC-IFCI) in Vancouver. Dr. Ghosh is the co-inventor of the proprietary NRC HPoD technology and is leading efforts to commercialize it.

The technology recently impressed a distinguished panel of business and scientific leaders to win second place in the new technologies for spin-off category of the NRC Business Case Challenge 2006.

HPoD is essentially a high-tech container of water with two electrodes. Click a single switch to connect the electrodes and you initiate a chemical reaction that produces hydrogen gas.
HPoD is essentially a high-tech container of water with two electrodes. Click a single switch to connect the electrodes and you initiate a chemical reaction that produces hydrogen gas.

The HPoD technology is elegantly straightforward. HPoD is a one-click hydrogen generator. It's essentially a high-tech container of water with two electrodes. Click a single switch to connect the electrodes and you initiate a chemical reaction that produces hydrogen gas. Turn off the switch and hydrogen production stops. (The electrodes are eventually used-up in this chemical reaction). When HPoD is attached to a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell, the fuel cell uses the hydrogen to generate electricity.

The HPoD technology is safe, reliable and highly scalable from micro-watts to kilowatts, says Dr. Ghosh. The HPoD team has developed a successful proof-of-concept lab prototype capable of generating about 250 watts.

Dr. Ghosh says the key to HPoD's initial commercial success lies in going small. The hydrogen on demand technology opens up the market for using PEM fuel cells as take-anywhere chargers for increasingly power-hungry portable communications devices, such as multi-media phones and PDAs. The concept has already received an enthusiastic response from several multinational communications companies. The market for such a portable recharger is estimated at $4 billion by 2013.

"The concept that we sold to the telecommunications companies is that we can miniaturize the HPoD technology," says Dr. Ghosh. "The portable HPoD device will be a compact, disposable plastic cartridge. When you have to recharge a portable electronic device, all you do is click-in the HPoD cylinder to the fuel cell and you've got an instant recharger."

HPoD can be attached to a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell; the fuel cell uses the hydrogen to generate electricity.
HPoD can be attached to a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell; the fuel cell uses the hydrogen to generate electricity.

The HPoD technology is also ideal for applications such as uninterrupted power supply (UPS) and back-up power applications, says Dr. Ghosh. These are uses in which companies, such as banks and telecommunications companies are willing to invest significantly in order to avoid the enormous losses caused by power outages. Present day UPS systems use nickel hydride and lead acid batteries that usually only store enough electricity for the safe shut down of a system. Back-up power, such as for cell phone towers, is presently created mostly from diesel generators, systems that are expensive to maintain. However a HPoD-fuelled PEM fuel cell for UPS or back-up power could provide relatively inexpensive, continuous power as long as the fuel was available. The technology is also environmentally friendly – the waste products are readily disposable and with larger systems all of the components could be recycled.

The HPoD technology was co-invented by NRC researchers led by Dr. Ghosh and researchers at a small Vancouver company. The agreement between NRC-IFCI and the company is that HPoD-derived intellectual property is assigned to NRC for licensing, commercialization and marketing.

Dr. Ghosh – now on an NRC commercialization assignment – is confident that HPoD has what it takes to make it from the lab to one day recharging a laptop. And the veteran fuel cell researcher has seen successes before. As the former VP and CTO for Calgary-based fuel cell maker Global Thermoelectric, Dr. Ghosh helped raise $160 million in public financing.

The NRC team is looking at a strategic alliance to bring the HPoD technology to market within the next three years.

"The timing is good for HPoD," says Dr. Ghosh. "Most of the technical barriers with PEM fuel cells have been solved. And the price point is almost there for high value-added applications such as personal electronics and uninterrupted power supply."


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National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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