Powering the Future: The Ballard Fuel Cell and the Race to Change the World

Powering the Future: The Ballard Fuel Cell and the Race to Change the World

by Tom Koppel
     
 

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"A great story about how a tiny Canadian company—for the first few years little more than 'three guys and a prayer'—brought such a revolutionary and beneficial technology to the world."

The Ballard fuel cell holds nothing less than the promise of clean, quiet power for the new millennium. Fuel cells could, one day soon, replace the internal combustion

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Overview

"A great story about how a tiny Canadian company—for the first few years little more than 'three guys and a prayer'—brought such a revolutionary and beneficial technology to the world."

The Ballard fuel cell holds nothing less than the promise of clean, quiet power for the new millennium. Fuel cells could, one day soon, replace the internal combustion engine and solve some of the world's worst air pollution problems. Powering the Future is the story of Ballard Power Systems, a small company at the forefront of this revolutionary technology, and on the brink of changing the way the world thinks about power. Fuel cells work by mixing hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electricity; the only by-product is water so clean you can drink it. The technology itself has been around for over 150 years, but—except for exotic applications such as space flight—remained obscure because of its expense. Powering the Future tells the intriguing story of how Geoffrey Ballard and a handful of colleagues brought this neglected technology to the world, on gritty determination and a shoestring budget. From their humble beginnings in their make-shift lab in an old Arizona motel, and on to the formation of Ballard Power Systems in British Columbia, this small company drastically improved and commercialized the fuel cell. They made it smaller, cheaper, and vastly more powerful over an astonishingly short time, actually melting down cables as they realized a fifty-fold increase in power output. Beyond the technical achievements, Ballard's story is also an amazing business success. Achieving a delicate balance between fiscal caution and technological daring, they brought fuel cells out of the lab and into the mainstream of business. Today, Ballard Power Systems is the acknowledged world leader in the fuel-cell race, and a runaway stock market success, its share price surging more than ten-fold in just three years. Powering the Future not only chronicles the company's impressive rise against stiff odds and intense competition; it also teaches valuable lessons about vision and inspiration, creating a culture of loyalty and dedication, attracting and keeping talented people, and marketing and selling an underdog technology to the biggest corporate giants. When Ballard decided to go for broke and enter the huge markets of transportation and stationary power, they took on some of the most formidable adversaries in the corporate world—car manufacturers and oil companies. You'll learn how the new generation of management excelled at not only improving the technology, but also marketing it, ultimately forging impressive alliances with some of the biggest players in the auto world. Powering the Future tells how it all happened through the unlikely mix of a driven visionary; a small, agile company; a culture of teamwork and dedication; government funding at the right time; the legislative urgency for cleaner power; and smart management.

Powering the Future is the entertaining and inspirational account of how a tiny high-tech research company grew, and became poised to literally change the way we live.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Powering the Future:

"One day in the future – and sooner than you may think! – fuel-cell power will be commonplace and people will wonder how it all came to be. Koppel's book describes the important role Ballard Power Systems is playing in this revolutionary technology." —Dennis Simanaitis, Engineering Editor, Road & Track magazine

"The Ballard fuel cell is a powerful example of a Canadian enterprise that could transform the world of energy and help save the environment. It's a story that needs to be told." — David Crane, Economics Editor, The Toronto Star

"The Ballard fuel cell holds great promise as an energy source for the ecological millennium. It's a fascinating and inspiring story." — Dr. David Suzuki, Biologist, Author, and Host

Drew Hasselback
Koppel chronicles how Ballard Power System's vision transformed fuel cells from a utopian, pollution-free power source to a feasible, marketable technology....Scientific discovery was only part of the challenge. Along the way, [founder Geoffrey] Ballard and his engineers had to cajole government agencies for grants, keep creditors at bay, and line up private sector investors. Yet when it became apparent that the...technology really might work, the company had to [change] from a tiny enclave of dreamy engineers into a hard-boiled firm capable of mass producing and mass marketing thousands of fuel cells. This...called for a new voice....[New CEO] Firoz Rasul...brought Ballard into the financial big leagues. The big breakthrough came when he brought in huge investments from Daimler Benz...and Ford....Stockbrokers now rave that Ballard has the potential to become the Intel of the auto business. This transformation resulted in the conflicts that makes 'Powering the Future' a very interesting book.
The Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Letter
Economist
Powering the Future tells the technical and human story of how the Ballard cell was born, thanks to the leadership of an idealistic former geologist, Geoffrey Ballard....The first versions had been developed by General Electric for moonshots. But the large American company had lost interest and the patents had largely expired. Other forms of fuel cell were then thought to be more promising. What the Ballard team brought to the story was engineering and passion. Using bits of plastic and sheets of graphite to make their fuel-cell stacks, they steadily increased the power output [and] cut costs....They showed off their work at a conference...and the American [government] suddenly woke up to the fact that [it] had been backing the wrong sort of fuel cell. The Ballard...cell made the electric motor car a real possibility, just as the tide of green protests against car smog was causing California to compel car makers to produce zero-emission vehicles.
The New York Times
Ballard's rise from its humble beginnings in a makeshift lab in Arizona in the 1970's to its pivotal position today-DaimlerChrysler and Ford both hold stakes in it-makes compelling reading. And Mr. Koppel explains the technology in a way that the average reader can understand.
Fred Brock
Library Journal
The fuel cell, an electrochemical device powered by hydrogen fuel and oxygen, might become the gasoline-substitute scientists have been searching for. (It generates electricity to drive the car's wheels silently.) In this new book, Canadian financial journalist Koppel details one company's contribution to development of the fuel cell for use in automobiles. Less an inside account than a technical report, the book describes the crucial years of research and development when a small staff with a small budget produced impressive results. But this report is flawed by its lack of cohesion, an over-reliance on technical jargon, and the absence of a real story. (It also lacks an index.) Much like Joe Sherman's Charging Ahead (LJ 7/98), this book prepares us for a world that is still a long way off. Some of the corporate intrigue detailed here is interesting, and the technically advanced may find this book compelling. But lay readers might want to wait for a useful electric car to actually get here before reading about it.--Eric C. Shoaf, Brown Univ. Lib., Providence, RI Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Fuel cells work by mixing hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electricity. The technology itself has been available for 150 years, but has remained obscure because of its expense. Koppel, a freelance writer who has followed the story of the Ballard fuel cell for 10 years, offers an account of Ballard Power Systems, a small company at the forefront of this technology. He outlines the company's technical achievements, chronicles the company's rise against competition, and examines lessons in marketing and management. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780471646297
Publisher:
Wiley
Publication date:
05/28/2001
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
151.00(w) x 222.50(h) x 18.20(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"...a great yarn of adventure, discovery and ambition. Koppel's account covers all the bases, from personal to technological, presented with a veteran...journalist's even-handed perspective. With most of the world's automakers now looking closely at fuel-cell technology, the great tale has a lot of relevance to what we may see on our roads within the next decade or two."
— John Terauds, Toronto Star

"This book tells the fascinating story of the development of the Ballard fuel cell and how a small Canadian company grew to world-class stature and went on to form partnerships with some of the largest companies in the world.... This book will appeal to a wide audience,...is entertaining and generally nontechnical.... I strongly recommend it."
— Timothy E. Lipman, American Scientist

"Ballard's rise from its humble beginnings in a makeshift lab in Arizona in the 1970s to its pivotal position today— DaimlerChrysler and Ford both hold stakes in it— makes compelling reading. And Mr. Koppel explains the technology in a way that the average reader can understand."
— Fred Brock, New York Times

Meet the Author

Tom Koppel is an award-winning freelance writer. He has contributed feature articles on business, science, history, and travel to national magazines in Canada and the U.S. for nearly twenty years. He has been following the story of the Ballard fuel cell for over ten years, and first wrote about it for the Financial Post Magazine and Reader's Digest. He lives on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. Powering the Future is his second book.

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