Causes grow in many shapes and forms when it comes to protecting our environment. In the early 1990s the phrase “think globally act locally” became popular as a method to do something within your control while keeping the big picture in mind. Kenneth Smith is someone who has done just that in more ways than one. Concerned about the developed world’s seemingly unbreakable ties to oil and coal, Smith began directing his considerable entrepreneurial spirit towards hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Smith, an inventor by nature, was perplexed by why fuel cells seemed to offer so much potential to meet mobile energy needs, yet their progress penetrating real world applications was almost non-existent. Hydrogen fuel cells have been a dream of those looking for new portable energy alternatives to internal combustion engines or plug-in batteries for more than a decade yet a lack of refinement and adoption has meant they are still a pricey and uncommon power source. Nonetheless, it’s hard to give up on fuel cells due to their zero emission potential and safe, inert internal materials.
In 2011, Smith founded Orange Power Systems, a start-up designed to address this inadequacy in two ways. First, Orange would refine the construction of fuel cells to simplify their parts and assembly, thereby lowering the total cost of the cells, streamlining production, and making them generally more feasible for mass production. Orange has developed a new process to build the assemblies that pull current from fuel cells so it can be delivered to an electrical system.
“We are developing the infrastructure to both manufacturer these membrane electrode assemblies for fuel cell manufacturers across the world and potentially also license the intellectual property and help apply them to new product designs,” Smith notes. “The more applications we can help realistically open up to hydrogen fuel cells, the better off the planet will be.”
Secondly, Smith hope to prototype and directly develop small to medium-sized hydrogen fuel cells for a handful of portable applications. This will potentially include field trialing cells in golf carts and other similar sized electrical or internal combustion-powered vehicles. Today, the majority of these are either powered by gasoline or coal (through batteries being recharged on a grid powered by coal-fired power plants).
“If we can prove-in viable, cost-effective designs in this market, there will be many places Orange can go to help proliferate fuel cell adoption,” Smith muses.
Smith is working to accelerate research and development efforts and trial new fuel cell applications. Along with maturing the technology, Smith knows that Orange must play a role collaborating with other businesses to help build a hydrogen fuel cell supply chain that can support applications with lower carbon footprints and environmental impact.