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Spun off from the prominent technology researcher SRI International in 1999, PolyFuel has been building on SRI’s nearly two decades of fuel cell development to create membranes that they say are a better fit for a cell phone user who doesn’t want to create water or a driver who wants their car to run reliably at different temperatures.

Focused initially on the micro fuel cell market for electronics devices, PolyFuel made headlines recently when the company announced significant breakthroughs with its hydrogen-based auto fuel cells.  Hydrogen fuel cells that use PolyFuel’s new hydrocarbon-based material, the company claims, will produce less humidity, create up to 15 percent more power, and cost less to manufacture than traditional membrane materials.

The potential market for fuel cells is huge.  By 2012, micro fuel cells will power nearly 15 percent of the world’s laptop computers, with shipments reaching 120 million units, Allied Business Intelligence Research of Oyster Bay, N.Y. has predicted.

It might take a decade or more to see hydrogen-based fuel cells powering even test vehicles for the consumer market, but the automotive market presents an even more ambitious arena for PolyFuel.  Balcom says the major auto makers are already spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” on their research and development of the technology.

“The exciting thing is just how much demand we’re seeing in both markets,” says Balcom. “The amount of pull for better membranes is great…especially the desire and demand from auto companies.”

While they have yet to sell their membranes, PolyFuel has captured much attention from electronics manufacturers and auto makers, many of whom are reportedly testing the company’s membranes in their labs.  Balcom says that all three major auto makers have tested their technology, and at least one might be moving toward a closer alliance with PolyFuel.

But many market watchers are still waiting to be impressed.

Atakan Ozbek, an analyst with Allied Business Intelligence, says he’s heard that PolyFuel’s membranes have bested DuPont’s Nafion in lab tests, “but achieving those results in real-world applications is a different thing…not just a few minutes, but thousands of hours.”

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