Fuel cell maker Intelligent Energy has raised $30 million, which the company plans to use to speed up its commercialization efforts.

Like many other fuel cell developers, it has taken Intelligent Energy time to convert research into commercial products. United Kingdom-based Intelligent Energy was founded in 2001 and bought a university spin-off Advanced Power Sources (APS).

The APS acquisition gave Intelligent Energy the access to intellectual property from the Loughborough University's team that built the first kilowatt-level polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell in the United Kingdom, the company said.

In a PEM fuel cell, hydrogen is fed in the anode to create an electrochemical reaction that splits the hydrogen to split into protons and electrons. The membrane acts as a filter that allows only protons to pass through to reach the cathode, forcing the electrons take another, external circuit and produce electrical current. The electrons travel to the cathode and recombine with protons and oxygen to form water.

Intelligent Energy said it has some success showcasing that its technology works. It provided Boeing with a fuel cell system to help fly what the company said was the world's first manned fuel cell plane.

Intelligent Energy also has formed a joint venture with the Scottish & Southern Energy to develop heat and power systems powered by fuel cells. The systems would serve both the residential and commercial markets, the companies have said.

Back in late 2007, the fuel cell developer teamed up with Suzuki Motor to showcase a prototype motorcycle called Crosscage that is powered by a lithium-ion battery charged by a fuel cell pack. In May this year, Intelligent Energy said it plans to launch a test fleet of the bike near its headquarters later this year.

Fuel cell technology has promised to deliver clean, high-density energy for transportation and other uses. But it has a long way to go before it reaches the mass market.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy wants to cut funding to fuel cell research to focus on technologies that could be commercialized in the near term (see Will GM Abandon Hydrogen Cars?). GM, which emerged from bankruptcy recently, said it would continue to invest in fuel cell car research (see GM Finds New life With eBay Deal).

But Congress might not go along with the DOE's proposal to cut funding. Committees in both the House and the Senate have tweaked the DOE's budget to include am ample amount of funding, if not more than what has set aside for fuel cell research for this fiscal year, reported the New York Times.

Although the automotive market is difficult to crack, it is but one of many markets that could make use of fuel cell technology. FuelCell Energy in Danbury, Conn., for example, has agreed to supply 43 megawatts of fuel cells at electricity grid substations, hospitals and natural gas stations (see Fuel Cells as Renewable Power?).

Photo: Crosscage prototype motorbike