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Fuel cell maker scores federal grant

PolyFuel, which designs membranes for methanol fuel cells, has obtained a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology?s Advanced Technology Program to develop a next-generation fuel cell gas diffusion layer for portable fuel cells.

Fuel cells are gaining momentum as a supplemental energy source for notebooks, cell phones and remote sensors, because they can last far longer than batteries, said Jim Balcom, PolyFuel?s CEO. Unlike automotive fuel cells, which rely on hydrogen, portable fuel cells convert methanol into electric power and water. PolyFuel doesn't make complete cells. Instead, it makes the polymer membrane, which drives the conversion process, which it then sells to the cell makers. Some notebook makers are expected to come out with notebook computers that are equipped with fuel cells as early as next year. Several government agencies are also scrutinizing the technology, Balcom said.