“It will take a combined effort of academia, government, and industry to bring about the change from a gasoline economy to a hydrogen economy. The forces are building and progress is being made. It is of major importance that a change of this magnitude not be forced on unwilling participants, but that all of us work together for an economically viable path to change.” — Geoffrey Ballard, from his speech at a World Hydrogen Energy Conference
After the interesting events described in the previous article, we are back on the American continent.
Archibald Ballard, Geoffrey’s father, was born on Staten Island. He studied electro-chemical engineering in Toronto. At a relatively young age, he became laboratory director at the Carborundum Corporation in Niagara Falls. During World War II he worked at the Oak Ridge laboratory on the atomic bomb.
Interested in scientific research, young Geoffrey studied geological engineering at one of Canada’s most prestigious institutions, Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. After graduating in 1956, he explored for Shell Oil and Mobil Oil in Alberta’s Oils Sands. He later earned his Ph.D. in geophysics and worked as a civilian in the US Army on the improvement of energy storage devices. Working with the U.S. Federal Energy Conservation Research Office, Ballard explored various types of batteries — before Lithium-Ion batteries could be recharged.
At a time when one-third of the North American economy depended on the automotive and petroleum industry, Ballard said, “My goal from the very beginning [of battery R&D] was replacing the internal combustion engine — just getting that off the streets.”
In 1979, he returned to Canada, this time to British Columbia. He founded Ballard Research Inc. in Vancouver and started to develop high-energy lithium batteries. His vision was to create a new, non-polluting source of energy. This led him to investigate the long ignored fuel cell –apart from NASA–, and he started intensive research on them.
In 1983, the company began developing proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, powered by hydrogen. That evolved in the 1990s into full-scale prototype systems. Ballard’s goal was to make fuel cells smaller and less expensive.
The company secured a British Columbia government contract to build a fuel cell powered demonstration bus. (See next week’s article) The bus was unveiled in June 1993 amid much publicity at Vancouver’s Science World.
Geoffrey Ballard’s work will have such a monumental impact on industry, society, and our planet that we ought to give him more space/time here. Since he is recognized and acknowledged as the Father of the Fuel Cell Industry, allow me to quote from Tom Koppel’s expertly written book that, “He [Ballard] was convinced that he and his company had the solution to one of the world’s most urgent problems, yet for years hardly anyone seemed willing to listen.”
Fred Brock of the New York Times added on the book’s cover, “Ballard’s rise from its humble beginnings in a makeshift lab in Arizona in the 1970s to its pivotal position today –Daimler and Ford hold stakes in it– makes compelling reading. And Mr. Koppel explains the technology in a way that the average reader can understand.”