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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Seeking to solve the growing “energy gap” in portable systems, Motorola Inc. on Wednesday (Nov. 8) said that it has made a strategic investment in Canada’s Tekion Inc., a fledging developer of a hybrid fuel cell and battery technology for mobile products.
Tekion (Burnaby, British Columbia) is developing the so-called Formira Power Pack, which integrates a Formira-based fuel cell and a conventional lithium-ion rechargeable battery in the same small unit. The battery provides power to the electronic device, while the fuel cell provides the energy required to recharge the battery, according to the company.

The technology combines the advantages of both batteries and fuel cells and eliminates the need to carry an external device, said Neil Huff, president and chief executive of Tekion.

Tekion is one of several dozen companies racing to develop fuel cells and related products for what Huff calls the “energy gap” in the electronics industry. “The electronic OEMs have a problem,” he said. OEMs and consumers “want more power and functionality.”

The startup hopes to commercialize its technology by 2007. Initially, it is aiming its technology for satellite phones. “The eventual Holy Grail is the cell phone,” he said. “We are also looking at everything from satellite phones, to handsets, to portable entertainment devices.”

Formed in 2003, Tekion obtained its technology through a license from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It has received several rounds of funding, but the company did not elaborate.

Tekion is using Formira as the fuel for its products, as opposed to methanol. Formira is a purified and modified form of formic acid. “The high power capability and simple chemistry of Formira fuel cells allow us to build a product that is less complex than methanol systems and actually fits within portable devices,” according to the company.

“The power density of a Formira fuel cell is significantly higher than that of a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC),” the company claims. “In addition, it performs at a lower operating temperature, uses lower cost catalysts, and, due to its chemistry, it requires less balance-of-plant components. These factors allow us to put our fuel cells inside the device where methanol cannot go.”

Tekion's technology provides a competitive advantage for portable electronic products in the power range of milliwatts to 50 watts and energy range of 10 to 100 watt-hours.

"Our decision to invest in Tekion was motivated by its cutting-edge technology and experienced leadership in micro fuel cell development," said Warren Holtsberg, corporate vice president, equity investments and director of Motorola Ventures, in a statement. Terms of the investment were not disclosed.

"As mobile products have simultaneously miniaturized and increased in functionality, battery capacity has become a significant challenge,” he said. “Tekion's non-flammable Formira fuel cell technology combined with an advanced battery technology, such as lithium ion, is a practical and efficient solution. Tekion's technology will help advance Motorola's vision of bringing seamless mobility to wireless users."

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