August 21, 2006
By: by Larry Rulison, Business Writer, Times Union
COLONIE -- An unfortunate situation for Dell Inc. may create opportunity for MTI MicroFuel Cells Inc., a Colonie company developing fuel cells for personal electronic devices.
On Monday, Dell voluntarily recalled 4.1 million lithium-ion laptop computer batteries made by Sony Corp. The batteries were found to overheat and possibly catch fire under some conditions.
MTI Micro is developing a new kind of fuel cell for personal electronics that runs on methanol. It struck a $1 million deal in May with Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. to develop fuel cells for the South Korean electronics giant.
Although the Dell recall isn't expected to immediately hurt lithium-ion battery sales, fuel-cell technology has received attention because of the recall.
George Relan, a spokesman for MTI Micro, said the recall has shed light on the fact that as manufacturers look to get more and more power into small electronic devices, fuel cells will have a huge market because they lead batteries in so-called "energy density," which measures how much power can be put into a device.
"This is where methanol fuel cells win," Relan said. "Battery life is really important."
However, shares of Mechanical Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: MKTY), the parent of MTI Micro, did not not receive an immediate bounce from the Dell news. Its stock remained in the $2.25-a-share range this week.
On the day after the Dell announcement, Michael Kanellos, a writer with the popular personal electronics publication CNET News.com, wrote that "momentum is growing" for companies like MTI Micro that are developing alternatives to lithium-ion batteries.
Pradeep Haldar, director of the Energy and Environmental Technology Applications Center at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, said the need to develop alternative-energy sources such as micro fuel cells "is increasingly being recognized as critical to our country's future, both from an energy and economic perspective."