A Foundation for Fuel Cells
John Peterson Myers, Ph.D.

Lake Tahoe Fuel Cell Conference
Lake Tahoe CA
27 July, 1998

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This conference brought together over 100 scientists, government policy-makers, business representatives and entrepreneurs to examine near-term opportunities for commercialization of fuel cells. A special focus of the meeting was providing the businesses involved in fuel cell commercialization an opportunity to convey the state of the art to interested investors and businesses from the developing world, to identify current roadblocks, and to facilitate linkages for joint projects and ventures.

Good morning and welcome.

The W. Alton Jones Foundation is very pleased to be able to sponsor this meeting along with the Desert Research Institute and the Energy Foundation . Thank you all for coming. I know for many of you it has been quite a journey.

As I look around the room I see many faces from many different countries and continents. Some of you I know, all of you I hope to meet. It is quite a view from here, to see the diversity of people and perspectives brought together by a common interest in fuel cells.

Not only are we a diverse group of people representing many different viewpoints and interests, we have also traveled to this spot along many wildly different pathways.

I hope that as the meeting goes on that the discussions, formal and informal, get much deeper than the details of the technology, that we find the chance to share informally some of the different perspectives and pathways that have brought us here. Understanding the factors that have motivated each of us to participate in this session I think will vastly increase the likelihood that the meeting will help bring closer the day when fuel cells are viable in the market.and available to help people meet their energy needs.

I am a biologist. My own path to Lake Tahoe began 15 years ago. At that time I knew nothing about fuel cells. Nothing. What I did know, however—what I was beginning to explore at the time—was about the possible impacts of global warming on the earth’s biota and on ecosystems. Even way back then, the picture was not a happy one. Studies have confirmed and expanded our initial concerns, to the point that we now understand, with scientific confidence, that unmitigated climate disruption will have devastating consequences for life on Earth.

When I joined the foundation in 1990, energy and biodiversity were already central themes for the foundation’s work. And our Board realized that while it was important to understand the threats created by climate disruption, for people and for ecosystems, it was just as important, if not more so, to find solutions. That’s what led us to fuel cells.

W. Alton Jones established the foundation in 1944. His mandate the foundation was "to promote the well-being and general good of mankind throughout the world." Those of you who know the history of W. Alton Jones know that he made his fortune in the oil and gas industry, and that indeed the foundation owes its very existence to the wealth generated by fossil fuels.

It has struck some people as odd, therefore, that the foundation would be pursuing objectives—among them the commercialization of fuel cells—which we hope will significantly change, indeed reduce, the role of hydrocarbons in the world’s energy economy.

Our Board, led by Pete Jones’s family, including our President, Patricia Jones Edgerton and Vice President, Diane Edgerton Miller, who are here with us at Lake Tahoe, are convinced that if Pete Jones were alive today he would not be looking back at what the oil and gas industry was, but looking forward to what it needs to become. He would be asking: how can we meet the world’s energy needs without undermining the health and security of the planet. And he would be applying all of his energy and talent and passion to pursuing that goal. In other words, Pete Jones would here in the room with us, working relentlessly to bring fuel cells to market around the world, today rather than tomorrow.

What does the foundation do? Our assets, compared with the stock market valuation of a major oil and gas company, are tiny. We don’t invest in heavy equipment or buildings or manufacturing plants. We look for people with new ideas, important ideas, we invest in them, and we pollinate.

That’s what’s happening, we hope, on a very intense scale at this meeting here in Lake Tahoe. People and pollination. Pollination of people with new ideas, ideas that will help change what many people perceive a threat to business—society’s need to respond to global warming—into an opportunity. A huge business opportunity, that over the next two decades will transform the energy sector, create many new businesses, and create many new jobs.

This is one of the messages I hope you take home from this meeting. Seizing the opportunity created by fuel cells will not be easy. People and businesses and investors will have to take risks. There remain real hurdles. There will be some failures along the way. But we know enough now and have enough experience with the science, technology and production of fuel cells to know that the wave is coming and that it is going to be very big.

You all are the core group that is going to make that happen, here in the United States and especially in rapidly developing countries around the world.

I mentioned that we invest in people. Let me single out 4 whom I hope you all get to know; I want them to stand as I introduce them to you. These are four scientists from developing countries who have spent the last month at the Desert Research Institute in a feast of learning about current prospects for fuel cell commercialization. They will soon be returning to their native countries as bonafide and highly trained pollinators:

Dr. Hongmei Deng, from Fudan University; Shanghai, China

Dr. K. Vijayamohanan, from the National Chemical Lab; Pune, India

Dr. Ulises Cano-Castillo, from Instituto de Investigaciones Electricas Av Reforma 113; Palmira Morales, Mexico

and Dr. Hernan Peretti, from National Atomic Energy Commission; Bariloche, Argentina.


Let me end by simply saying that this meeting has two vital parts. One part is the formal one, what is happening here in this room, from the lectern and in the breakout sesssions. The other is what happens informally. The contacts, the impressions, the individual commitments to follow-up.

As I was walking over to the meeting room this morning I met Jose Giner, originally from Spain but now from Massachusetts. He told me that he had been working on fuel cells for a quarter century, and then observed that there were many new faces here and not many old ones, ones he described as "the fuel cell generation that failed." Now I think that is a bit harsh. After all, we stand on the shoulders of the wonderful, hard and insightful work they initiated and pursued. What I see in front of me is the next generation, and we know it will not fail.

Thank you for coming.

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