San Francisco based Oorja Protonics, which currently sells its fuel cells to Nissan Motor Co. for use in robotic forklifts,  is developing a product intended to be used as a range-extender in pure electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles.  In an interview on Friday, chief executive Sanjiv Malhotra said "We would have something in 18 to 24 months,"  adding that the company is working "very aggressively" on such a range-extending fuel cell.

Malhotra said the initial difficulty he faced when he started the company in 2005 was to find an appropriate fuel for the fuel cell.  He went on to say that" The biggest challenge I was looking to solve was the hydrogen problem."

In recent years, the major automakers have spent billions of dollars experimenting with Hydrogen-based fuel cell technology, but problems with storage and infrastructure have begun to look like they may be effectively insurmountable.  Oorja elected to go a different route, developing methanol based fuel cell technology as a more practical alternative.  Methanol is cheap, easily available and simple to store.  Also, it can be derived from various sources such as wood, grass, landfills, natural gas and coal,  and existing fuel delivery infrastructure is well suited to its use.

Oorja's current fuel cells, which generate electricity by directly converting the chemical energy stored in methanol into electrical and thermal energy, cost about $16,500, and are used by its customers to power fork lifts and materials "tugs" on factory floors.  Presumably economies of scale and/or design changes for the new application are expected to reduce that price to a more competitive number for use as a range extender.   By way of comparison, informed speculation puts the manufacturing cost to GM of one of its gasoline fueled range extenders for the Volt at under $1000.00.  Of course, unlike an internal-combustion range extender, part of the appeal of a fuel cell is that it is essentially emissions free.

Malhotra said that Oorja will soon be announcing more product contracts and is looking to ramp up its manufacturing capacity in an effort to sell fuel cells in the "low thousand" volume range next year.  Oorja plans to double its manufacturing space and is in the process of opening sales and service locations around the country.

"We have grown at an exponential pace," Malhotra said, adding that the company is on track to be profitable in the "next few months."

[SOURCE: EV World]