Following the fuel cell market is a little like watching grass grow — you know there’s progress being made, but sometimes it’s really hard to tell. Folsom, Calif.-based Jadoo Power is one fuel cell startup that has been making a few changes as of late. In mid-August, the company promoted its co-founder and VP of business development, Lee Arikara, to CEO. We haven’t gotten co-founder and former CEO Larry Bawden’s side of the story, but the official explanation is that Bawden stepped down to spend more time with his family. Hmmm.
Around the same time the company, which was founded in 2001, said it had raised another round of funding from Velocity Venture Capital. Arikara told us yesterday that the most recent funding brings the company’s total investment to a little over $20 million. He added that down the road another $15 million would put the company in a good position.
Perhaps the recent moves of Jadoo, which means “magic” in Hindi, will help it reach one of their goals of selling fuel cell technology for mainstream portable consumer electronics by 2010. What exactly are fuel cells? They create power by mixing some kind of fuel with air and water through a reactive membrane to create an electrochemical reaction. This power source can be longer-lasting — in Jadoo’s case they say 10 times the energy capacity of a battery — and lighter-weight than more traditional ones. While consumer electronics is the end goal for many companies, the technology can be used as a power source for a variety of applications.
Jadoo is unusual in the fuel cell world in that it already has products on the market. Currently Jadoo says it is selling six fuel cell products that target niche industries where reliable, long-lasting power is more critical, such as first responders, the defense industry and the television broadcast industry. Arikara explains the focus on these particular industries as “niche markets build volume.” This week Jadoo announced a partnership with Acumentrics to develop fuel cell technology to target the generator market.
Jadoo’s Arikara tells us that there are three major challenges that fuel cell companies face when trying to access the consumer market: regulatory, infrastructure and standards. On the regulatory front there is a long way to go, but the U.S. Department of Transportation recently issued “a proposed rulemaking” to allow airplane passengers to use fuel cells and methanol fuel cartridges to power consumer electronic devices on board planes.
When it comes to standards, Arikara says this is still “early days,” similar to the early PC market, and “everyone wants their approach to be the standard.” Jadoo of course has theirs too, and makes fuel canisters that act as the digital interface to the gas tank, which Arikara calls “the USB for fuel canisters.”
Now that the company has a new CEO and new funding, it has some major plans: ramp up manufacturing and do deals with big strategic players, like the health-care market. While a change of guard is often not a good sign at a startup, we’ll follow Jadoo closely and see how much progress the company makes.