Aug. 2, 2007
By Sally Linder and Mary Alice Casey
It would be great -- and more environmentally responsible -- to run cars on hydrogen, but experts say it would cost about four times as much as gasoline. An Ohio University researcher has figured out how to produce hydrogen fuel inexpensively, and today, she and the university signed an agreement to license her technology to a corporation that will take it to the marketplace.
The company, American Hydrogen Corp., also has set up offices in Athens at the Ohio University Innovation Center. The license agreement grants American Hydrogen, a wholly owned subsidiary of American Security Resources Corp. (OTCBB: ARSC), exclusive worldwide rights to commercialize the technology.
Gerardine Botte, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, has developed the patent-pending ammonia catalytic electrolyzer technology, which efficiently converts ammonia into hydrogen to produce inexpensive fuel.
"The beauty of this technology is that it can go so many places. It could drive a car here, but it could even be in a shuttle in a mission to Mars in the future," Botte said.
It was the technology's application in clean-energy fuel-cell generators that drew American Hydrogen to Botte's groundbreaking research.
"We searched everywhere for a method to produce inexpensive hydrogen fuel. Dr. Botte's technology held the highest promise for knocking down the price of hydrogen to a rate that is competitive," Frank Neukomm, chairman and CEO of American Security Resources, said at today's official signing.
Today's deal included two other components: a $600,000 sponsored research contract from American Hydrogen to support research and development of the technology, including funding for several student and technical staff members, and an agreement that grants The Ohio University Foundation equity in ARSC.
"We were successfully able to negotiate equity in ARSC for The Ohio University Foundation, giving it the opportunity to participate in a company that has three operating subsidiaries, all of which offer the opportunity for growth," said Robert Malott, associate director for technology commercialization. "The company also plans to continue making acquisitions."
"The company is showing it wants to establish a long-term relationship with Ohio University," Botte said. "They believe in technology like this and are willing to take a step outside the regular boundaries to pursue it."
The first application for Botte's research will be in fuel for a hydrogen generator that produces electricity for homes and offices. Another ARSC subsidiary, HydraFuel Cell Corp., produces the generators and was looking for ways to make them affordable for consumers when it ran across Botte's research.
"We see the first sweet spot in the market being the introduction of the hydrogen economy in stationary applications, followed by mobile applications, and any place where power is intermittent, problematic and needs to be supported over an extended period of time," said Ben Schafer, president of American Hydrogen Corp. "The dreams are to make it possible for my grandchildren and their children to live in a world that has the energy necessary to continue to grow, to have the economy we enjoy today."
"We've been working toward this deal for just over a year," Malott said. "It accomplishes so many things that are important to the university. The license is one way for us to generate fairly substantial new revenue (through licensing and royalty payments) once the company starts to sell products incorporating our technology. Also, research is a core value of our faculty, and this will help facilitate Gerri Botte's work."
Malott also said for the 20 years he's been at Ohio University, the leadership has felt it was important to identify technologies that can result in new startup companies in the region.
Today's agreement not only allows Botte's research to take a giant leap forward, it brings new opportunities to Ohio University students. Several undergraduate and graduate students already have worked side by side with Botte as she developed the ammonia-to-hydrogen technology. Now, more students will have that chance. In addition, American Hydrogen's first employee is an Ohio University Russ College electrical engineering graduate student, Tim Delashmutt, who is helping to design the electronics and controls for the ammonia fuel system.
"You have to be open to other technologies that have potential," Botte said, expressing gratitude for Ohio University's leadership role in clean-energy research. "There is no one answer (to meeting the world's energy needs)."
Botte is director of the university's Electrochemical Engineering Research Laboratory. In 2006, she earned the university's Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Outstanding Research Paper Award and the Martin E. and Ann D. White Research Award.
Ohio University interim Vice President for Research James Rankin sees a bright future for Ohio University and the growth of its energy-related research. "We're calling it alternative energy, but maybe that word alternative is going away," he says. "It will be just clean-fuel technology."
Linda Clark, director of the university's Innovation Center, said American Hydrogen Corp. will take full advantage of incubator benefits and also work with business development professionals at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.
"This is a great example of how the Innovation Center plays a part in the pathway to commercialization of university technology," Clark said. "And this is exactly the type of companies we are trying to attract to the region."
Jennifer Simon, chief executive of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, said the company's decision to license Botte's technology and locate in Athens complements ongoing economic development efforts.
"Athens is a wonderful place to grow a clean-energy company. It is part of our culture," Simon said, noting the area's history in coal and energy production. "We have an opportunity to continue to build on that heritage."
ARSC (www.americansecurityresources.com) is a holding company focused on clean-energy companies and technologies, including high-volume, mass-producible hydrogen fuel cells and wind power. ARSC is a component of the Ludlow Energy SmallCap Index (www.ludlowcapital.com/indices).
This story was last updated at 3:45 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3, 2007.