Kelowna could become the centre of a revolution in power generation if local company can capitalize on new technology
By STEVE MacNAULL The Daily Courier
Kelowna is poised to be the fuel cell capital of Canada. "When people ask: 'Why Kelowna?' I tell them: Why not Kelowna," said Stuart Gray, vice-president of Global Energy Innovations, the company commercializing the latest in fuel cell technology units.
"We can have a fuel cell assembly plant in the Kelowna area that could become the size Western Star was."
Western Star was the truck manufacturer on Enterprise Way that used to be the city's biggest employer, with over 1,000 workers, before parent company Freightliner moved everything to Portland, Ore.
This story starts in Flint, Mich., where the head of the mechanical engineering department at Kettering University — Joel Berry — developed a new type of fuel cell that utilizes readily-available natural gas, propane or biofuel to create clean and efficient electric power.
In past, fuel cells used hydrogen and oxygen to generate energy.
However, because hydrogen isn't easily accessible, previous fuel cell technology was limited. "My goal was to create a robust technology that can be commercialized for widespread global use," Berry said on a recent visit to the Global Energy Innovations office in Kelowna.
Berry's fuel cells have been featured in stories on NBC-TV and The Wall Street Journal.
He set up Global Energy Innovations in Flint as a company separate from the university to start that commercialization.
His invention has been tested over the last few years and is now ramping up to go into production.
The first factory will be in Flint, but with the Global Energy Innvovations office being set up in Kelowna, Gray wants to see manufacturing locally as well.
"We see the fuel cells being 70-per-cent completed in Flint and then sent up here for final assembly for Canadian distribution and sale to customers around the world," he said.
"We'll need a 30,000-square-foot factory and start with about 100 employees and build from there."
Gray is now looking for that factory location and has been in discussions with both Westbank First Nation and natural gas and electric utility FortisBC for possible partnerships.
A fuel cell is basically a black metal box with electronic circuitry inside that uses the chosen fuel (natural gas, methane propane or biofuel) to start a chemical reaction that converts the fuel to electrial power.
There are no moving parts and no combustion of fuel as there is in a furnace, generator or power plant.
A fuel cell or cells can be hooked up to a natural gas line or any other fuel supply and placed anywhere to power anything from a single family home to a whole community.
Fuel cells come in different sizes.
The two-kilowatt unit measuring four feet by four feet by three feet can be used as back-up or primary power for a single-family home.
The 100-kilowatt unit isn't that much bigger at six feet by six feet by eight feet, but packs a lot more punch and can power 10,000 to 15,000 homes, an entire apartment or office highrise, shopping centre, hospital or factory.
The 100-kilowatt units can also be stacked together to provide even more electricity for more users.
"In Canada, the market for fuel cells is companies that have drilling rigs that are currently using dirty and expensive diesel generators," said Global's Kelowna-based business development director Dallas Morin.
"They could also be used in oil and gas operations up north or in remote or Native communities that don't have cheap and reliable electricity. Internationally, the market is huge because reliable electricity is needed for everything from single-family homes to entire communities in developing parts of China, India and Africa."
Gray, the son of Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray, was most recently an alternative energy consultant and Morin has a background in real estate investing in the U.S.
To finance Global's fuel cell commercialization, Gray has arranged for publicly traded company Suja Minerals (SJML on the over-the-counter NASDAQ bulletin board) to acquire Global Energy Innovations.
Shortly, the name of the publicly-traded company will become Global Energy Innovations (symbol: GEI).
So far, $800,000 has been raised and the goal is $15 million over the next year.
Stock is currently changing hands in the 50 to 60 cent range, but is expected to increase as the fuel cell commercialization amps up.
Check out GEIGlobal.com.
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The Importance of Commercialization
Tuesday, 29 July 2008 03:35
GEI is part of the Fuel Cell and Sustainable/Alternative Energy industry and has a target market that includes portable and on-board power generation applications requiring efficient, clean, near-zero emissions, and silent operations in the 2kW to 8kW nominal power range.
Fuel cells have several advantages over current energy producing technologies. They are efficient, environmentally benign, fuel flexible, modular, scalable, have low and easy maintenance, and are adaptable to specialized applications.