Many Americans across the country rely on handheld devices each day to get their jobs done or stay in touch with friends and family, and now some companies are pushing technologies that power that hardware from concept to reality faster than ever. One such firm in Albany, N.Y., has developed a clean source of energy for portable electronics designed for anybody who’s tired of the nightly ritual of recharging a portable electronic device. It will allow for longer battery life for handheld devices than typical PDA batteries.
MTI Micro Fuel Cells’ CEO Peng Lim has been immersed in cutting-edge technologies since the early 1990s.
“Fuel cells have a lot of promise,” Lim says. “The biggest problem [in the industry] is still battery life and mobility.”
Lim was among the first to tackle the mission of developing PDAs. During his time working in consumer electronics, he became more and more obsessed with portability in small electronic devices. His drive to innovate portable electronics led Lim into micro fuel cells technology.
Now, MTI hopes to make life easier for millions of PDA users throughout the world. Behind its technology are micro fuel cells drawing power from methanol.
Lim says that moving the technology from the research and development phase to the market presents the biggest challenge. Launching a commercialized product requires a lot of capital and manpower, and MTI struggled to make that next big step, he says.
But in July of this year, the company received a research and development cost-sharing award worth $4.8 million through the Recovery Act. The funding will help MTI demonstrate a commercially viable, methanol fuel cell-powered charger for the consumer electronics market.
“There was a direct impact on what we do here,” Lim says. “It allowed us to solve the manufacturing challenges that fuel cells were facing at that time.”
The award also helped MTI to secure loans through leveraged investor contributions. “It would have been a tragedy if we let this great technology lead we worked so hard to achieve fall to foreign competitors, due to short-term market conditions,” says Chuck Carlstrom, director of fuel cell engineering at MTI Micro.
Amid the rough economic climate where corporate financing was drying up across the country, the boost came at a crucial moment for MTI. “It helped us advance our technology, and it helped our employees,” says Lim. “Our employees feel good that the U.S. government is helping us keep our jobs.”
Carlstrom couldn’t agree more. “There was a dramatic sigh of relief regarding job security for the people working here when the DOE award was announced in April,” he says.