Bothell’s Neah Power aims to create buzz with fuel cells

By Libby Martucci For Herald Business Journal

BOTHELL — People are using mobile phones and iPads not just in homes and businesses, but at remote work sites and even battlefields around the world.

This growing popularity of mobile devices is leading to a growing demand for mobile energy sources.

Enter Neah Power Systems, a Bothell-based company that is developing fuel-cell technology with the cool sounding names of BuzzBar and PowerChip.

Rechargeable batteries need to be plugged into the wall to get energy, take a while to recharge and eventually have disposal issues.

Fuel cells can instantly be recharged when fuel is added and maintain power longer than batteries, said Chris D’Couto, president and CEO of Neah Power Systems.

“You have to plug batteries into the wall to drain energy from the grid and store them, this is then released when it’s used. A fuel cell is an energy-generation device, that can generate energy on demand.” D’Couto said. “Our fuel cell which is filled with formic acid creates that energy by converting the fuel directly into energy.”

Since its inception, Neah Power has attracted more than $58 million in investment from Intel Capital, Novellus Systems and the U.S. Navy among others, D’Couto said.

It’s a publicly traded company (ticker code: NPWZ).

The business, which operates out of a 6,600-square-foot facility in Bothell, is making a limited number of units of its first fuel cells.

“Our goal and intent with shipping out these first few generation-one units is to gather feedback from consumers.” D’Couto said. “We will then incorporate that feedback into the new generation-two units set to be available for pre-order in June of 2014.”

Neah Power is working with UMC Global Solutions out of Woodinville for design and manufacture of these first units. The company in the future could partner with larger companies like Telecom and Samsung Distribution Services, which has sent a letter of interest.

Neah Power was founded by two University of Washington students, Leroy Ohlsen and Michael Fabien, in 1999. It started in Ohlsen’s garage. The pair later moved their business to the UW Incubator Center for a short time before some larger investments led them to go public.

The company has two main products: The PowerChip and the BuzzBar.

The PowerChip is a high- density fuel cell that uses a direct methanol fuel cell system. It’s primarily used by the military, government and corporations. When its energy has been used up, the user just replaces the old cartridge with a new one and more power is instantly available.

It uses a patented porous silicon base that does not require air to operate like many other methanol fuel cells so it has the freedom to operate in remote areas, underwater or even space.

“The non-air functionality in this fuel cell was funded by the U.S. Navy in 2008-2009,” D’Couto said.

BuzzBar is the newest Neah Power line. It’s a small fuel cell that can recharge mobile devices out in the field.

It can get its power from numerous sources like plugging into the grid, solar power called BuzzSol and AA battery power called the BuzzBatt.

For more information on Neah Power Systems, go to www.neahpower.com.