Military work gives boost to Reno fuel-cell company NNBW Staff, 8/25/2008
A contract to provide fuel cells to power a small, unmanned aircraft tested by the military is putting wind beneath the wings of a young Reno company.
Scheelite Technologies Inc. won an $800,000 subcontract to provide fuel cells for tiny aircraft â€” their wingspans are only a foot or two â€” that are under development by Northrop Grumman Corp. for the U.S. Air Force.
â€œThis jump-starts us,â€ says Lee Ky Good, one of the co-founders of Scheelite Technologies.
For about three years, development of the company has been bootstrapped by Good and the companyâ€™s other founder, Jacek Chrostowski. Each of them has more than 30 years experience in technology and industry.
The direct-methanol fuel cell technology used by Scheelite Technologies generates electricity more efficiently than conventional hydrogen fuel cells.
Scheelite takes the basic direct-methanol technology a step further with fuel cells that are flexible and compressionless â€” allowing them to be as small as about an inch square.
The tiny size makes the companyâ€™s fuel cells a good fit on unmanned aircraft, Good says. A study by The Teal Group projects that military and other users will purchase as many as 50,000 unmanned aircraft annually by 2016 â€” and each of the aircraft requires $3,000 to $15,000 worth of fuel cells.
Scheelite also thinks its small fuel cells may find a market as long-lived power supplies for electric bikes.
Because the cells are thin and flexible, they also might be used in clothing. For instance, Good says, Scheelite Technologies fuel cells could be sewn into military clothing, providing an on-the-go power source for soldiersâ€™ communication technology.
Good and Chrostowski are hoping to win another $10 million in federal contracts in the next three years to fund further development of the fuel cells as they also begin to look for commercial applications. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada has been a key supporter of the companyâ€™s effort to win funding, Good says.
The company plans to staff up â€” it currently employs five part-timers and consultants â€” and is beginning to look for contract manufacturers to make its fuel cells.
Ultimately, Good says, the company wants to license its technologies and products to generate higher volumes and more efficient manufacturing.