Astris Energi Inc.'s Small Vehicle Fuel Cell Engines Ready Now, Well Ahead of Cars

Small fuel cells for homes, RVs and golf carts seens as fast developing market for company alkaline fuel cell engine.

Published: 26-Mar-2001

So you've been reading a lot about the promise of fuel cells, this great new power source that "burns" only hydrogen gas and oxygen from the air.

Sounds interesting, but you're told they're still three or more years away, so why invest now? But most of the writers and readers are paying attention only to the hype about fuel cell power for cars, buses and trucks, which is some years in the future. Several hundred million dollars are being spent by big companies to reach that goal -- and they will, in time.

Meanwhile, right now, fuel cell power generators are ready to drive a wide variety of small vehicles -- golf carts, airport ramp, retirement community, police and security vehicles, as well as providing light and heat for RVs and boats.

One company, Astris Energi Inc., a Canadian fuel cell pioneer, has developed an alkaline fuel cell "engine" to power all such vehicles. In fact, it will be demonstrating an alkaline fuel cell-powered golf cart, the first such vehicle in the world, early next month.

The same company, with its affiliate in the Czech Republic, completed and delivered last year its first compact fuel cell system to provide electricity, heat and hot water to individual homes.

"All of these applications of fuel cell technology are expected to become commercial and profitable well before the large vehicle markets mature," said Jiri K. Nor, president of Astris Energi.

While fuel cell-driven cars, buses and trucks may be "the promised land," the large markets for small vehicles, which now appear imminent, shouldn't be ignored, Nor said, noting that there are 3.5 million golf carts and an equal number of motor homes in the United States alone. The home electrical system market is, of course, virtually unlimited.

The inherent advantages of fuel cells assure their pervasive application, according to Nor. They are noiseless, have no moving parts to fail or wear out, use only hydrogen gas and oxygen from the air and are pollution free, with pure water the only by-product.

Alkaline fuel cells have for years been providing light, heat and drinking water to our astronauts in all manned space vehicles, and to the Russians as well.

But, if you're waiting to get aboard the fuel cell train until you see cars and buses on your streets and freeways, you'll be too late. The train is already leaving the station.

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