The emergency backup power generator market is one of those niche industries that is virtually invisible to the average person, unless, of course, the lights go out for an extended time period. Current generators are expensive, dirty and loud, making it necessary to keep them outside where they run the risk of being stolen during times of crisis. Taking that into consideration, it is not very difficult to rough it through the occasional short power failure; however, backup power generators sometimes prove necessary during the rare emergency, such as Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath or the Northeast blackout in 2003.

New developments, however, are making it possible for the backup generator to gain regular commodity status. As we are becoming more concerned with low-cost, quiet and environmentally safe products, the backup generator industry has met those requirements.

Companies such as Power Air Corp., GE and Powerzinc are developing fuel cells that use environmentally friendly fuel sources to generate power.

Power Air Corp., Livermore, Calif., believes there is a unique solution for backup power generators used in homes and small businesses that is also friendly to the environment.

Four months ago, Power Air created a North American partnership by teaming with Schrader-Bridgeport International Inc. to develop an emergency backup generator powered with a zero-emission fuel cell using zinc instead of hydrogen. The technology features nonflammable and nonexplosive fuel and thus avoids the disadvantages of using compressed gas, while allowing indoor use of the generator.

In the agreement, Power Air is supplying the fuel cells to Schrader-Bridgeport, which, in turn, will manufacture a new line of generators. This new line of generators will be quiet running, emission free and have the ability to be operated indoors. As it runs on zinc, there are no concerns of flammability, and since it will be indoor-safe, there will be an inherent security against theft. If used in a residence, it will generate enough power to keep the lights on in the house and the refrigerator, TV, phone and computer operating.

At a recent conference in New York, Remy Kozak, the company’s president and chief executive officer, indicated there are approximately 42 million sites in the United States that are potential customers for the zinc-based fuel cell generator. For more information on the backup generator market, turn to Claire Swedberg’s “When All the Lights Go out,” page 154 of this issue.                  EC