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6/17/2004

Ionic increases fuel cell capabilities

By Paula Aven Gladych
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Ionic Fusion is buying Loveland-based BekkTech LLC, a deal that should give the Longmont-based company an edge in the burgeoning fuel cell industry.

The purchase is expected to close July 1.

The acquisition of BekkTech gives Ionic Fusion “complete capability in-house to manufacture membranes and fuel cells,” said Joe Ryan, president of Ionic Fusion since November 2003. “It also gives us the ability to test them and provide the data we need. We’re very pleased with the addition of BekkTech to our team.”

He added that the “hydrogen fuel economy is a long way off,” but his company will be at the forefront of research into how to create hydrogen, store it and distribute it.

“As awareness of what we do makes its way into the scientific and business community, we will get an equal amount of interest in Europe and the Far East and we will look for ways to expand to those markets,” said Ryan.

Fuel cells work like batteries, producing electricity and heat from hydrogen, with water as the exhaust byproduct, and can be used to power vehicles or provide electricity and heat to buildings, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Division.

Ionic Fusion specializes in nanotechnology. Using its ionic plasma deposition vacuum technique, the company “impregnates” materials — such as precious metals — into the surface of metal, plastic and paper. Because the process doesn’t just place a thin coating of material on different surfaces, the deposited materials won’t peel or flake off over time, said Ryan.

“Unlike other deposition technologies, IPD technology can control particle size, shape and dispersion patterns,” said CEO Rod Ward. This makes the technology “highly adaptable to the problems facing the fuel cell industry.”

The purchase of BekkTech is part of Ionic Fusion’s larger growth strategy. The company, which has doubled in size in the past six months to 12 employees, recently divided into units based on its four areas of research and development: medical, energy, electronic and industrial.

Managing directors were hired for each division “to help build those empires. They could be their own stand-alone companies one day,” said Ward.

Ionic Fusion issued private shares five weeks ago in an attempt to raise $2.2 million, said Ryan. So far, the company has raised $1.1 million from that offering, bringing its investment capital up to $2.4 million.

“We’ll be cash-positive in the fourth quarter of this year for the first time,” said Ryan.

BekkTech began working with Ionic Fusion on a contractual basis more than a year ago, said Rhonda Bekkedahl, co-owner of the Loveland-based company.

“(Ionic Fusion) wanted to apply their technology to the fuel cell industry, but now we’re working closer with them. It is more of a team effort,” she said.

Bekkedahl and her husband, Tim, founded BekkTech four years ago. The company provides fuel cell testing services to manufacturers of fuel cells and fuel cell equipment. It also provides equipment for companies that want to do their own testing.

One of the challenges in the fuel cell industry is controlling costs for some of the expensive materials used, said Bekkedahl.

Ionic Fusion’s coating process uses “less precious metal. We can get it into the right place and use less of it,” she said, which lowers the cost tremendously.

The ionic plasma deposition process also is “proven to reduce corrosion in the industrial arena and has actually shown it in the fuel cell environment as well,” she said. “It does a better job of reducing corrosion than other technologies available in the fuel cell industry.”

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at pavengladych@times-call.com