Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tech Across Ohio - Ohio Fuel Cell Coalition

Seminar focuses on advantages of fuel-cell use - Local & Regional News - Vindy.com, The Vindicator

By Sean Barron

YOUNGSTOWN — More companies nationwide are making greater use of or offering green technologies to not only enhance their bottom line, but to share in the responsibility of preserving the environment.

A major entity that recognizes the importance of cleaner, more efficient uses of energy is the Ohio Fuel Cell Coalition.

The state is leading the way in the development of fuel-cell technology, and a cluster of businesses and educational institutions that are behind its use can be found in Northeast Ohio and the Mahoning Valley.

That was a main premise behind Wednesday’s two-hour seminar in Youngstown State University’s Kilcawley Center designed to explore advantages of such technology and address employment and other opportunities in the industry.

The gathering featured a series of speakers who talked about business opportunities and applications related to fuel-cell technology. The U.S. Department of Energy sponsored the event.

An advanced energy technology, fuel cells rely on chemical reactions to harness oxygen and hydrogen to produce electricity without combustion or harmful emissions, explained Dr. James Maloney, an engineering professor at Stark State College of Technology in North Canton.

The college was one of four exhibitors at the seminar to showcase programs and offerings related to the technology. Local companies represented were Catacel Corp. of Garrettsville, Refractory Specialties Inc. of Sebring and Technical Staffing Professionals LLC of Warren.

Fuel cells are cleaner and two to three times as efficient as traditional combustion engines, Maloney told the audience of about 100.

The cells, among other things, can vastly improve the efficiency of power plants and allow for greater use of domestically produced fuels, he noted, adding that Stark State College offers two-year degrees in the field and is working to develop programs for middle and high school students.

Heading the seminar was Patrick Valente, executive director of the Ohio Fuel Cell Coalition.

The coalition is a collaborative of more than 75 universities, companies, government bodies and nonprofit organizations dedicated to expanding the uses and applications of fuel-cell technology.

Members include YSU, Kent State University and First Energy.

Valente said he envisions when fuel cells will be used more extensively to power people’s homes and cars.

General Motors already has about 100 Chevrolet Equinox cars that use the technology and can go 400 to 500 miles without refueling, he noted.

Ohio is a pioneer state in the industry because it has a strong network of economic-development programs, along with strategies, support and a solid supply chain, Valente said, adding that U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown are advocates of the technology. In the past seven years, Ohio has invested more than $70 million in state support and educational initiatives in the fuel-cell industry, he continued.

“You put all of this together, and this is what makes Ohio and the region competitive,” Valente said.

A strategy for this year is to further develop the technology, attract new companies and create a fuel-cell work force, all of which can help reverse the decline in the manufacturing industry and create a greater number of high-skill, high-paying jobs, Valente noted.

Catacel was recently awarded about $450,000 to speed up the production of fuel-cell components, noted Sam Mawlawi, the company’s sales manager.

Catacel employs 23 and makes catalytic converters and fuel-cell components.

Also in the fuel-cell business is Refractory Specialties Inc., which has two sites in Sebring and one in Columbiana.

The fuel-cell business is one of several markets RSI serves, noted Dick Wilk, president.

The company produces about 5 million pounds of fiber annually and also makes parts for the cells, he pointed out.

“Fuel cells are all around us” and could replace conventional batteries and internal combustion engines, predicted Bruce A. Bille, president of Technical Staffing Professionals.

TSP offers consulting services to help businesses find and recruit the right people to allow for the companies’ success, Bille said.

Also presenting remarks at the seminar was Julie Michael Smith of the Youngstown Business Incubator.

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