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Innovative fuel cell manufacturer putting laid-off autoworkers back on the job

‘Michigan knows manufacturing,’ Adaptive Materials owner says
This is one in a series of profiles on Michigan companies re-energizing Michigan. Adaptive Materials Inc. of Ann Arbor is one of the burgeoning new economy energy companies taking root in Michigan. Clean energy ventures, advanced battery companies and unique technologies like Adaptive Materials’ innovative fuel cells are helping put Michigan’s skilled workforce back on the job. The Michigan Environmental Council and its allies are working to create state laws and policies that encourage the growth of these alternative and renewable energy industries in Michigan.

A growing company whose cutting edge energy technology is used primarily by the military is making its move into the lucrative commercial market and hiring laid-off Michigan autoworkers to help make that transition.

Adaptive Materials Inc. is pursuing contracts to manufacture its propane-powered fuel cells for use in motor homes, boats and other civilian applications.

Its growth—and prospects for explosive diversification—allowed the company to move from a cramped 11,000 square foot facility to a 50,000 square foot building in 2008. The company employs 65 workers, including about 14 laid-off autoworkers who have been retrained with the help of government grants.

More employees, including more former autoworkers, are expected to be hired as the company moves into the consumer market.

“Michigan knows manufacturing, and that’s why we’re here,” said Michelle Crumm, co-owner of the company with her husband, Aaron Crumm.

The company chose to stay in Michigan, despite a strong bid from Ohio, which has a much more united and consistent program to attract cutting edge alternative industries than Michigan does. “Michigan seems to have the flavor of the month—it was fuel cells at one time, then it was wind, solar, and now it’s batteries. Ohio has really focused on the fuel cell programs and said ‘we want fuel cells built in Ohio.’”

Crumm said a $6 million award from the 21st Century Jobs Fund also helped tip the scales toward Michigan when the company decided to expand.

Adaptive Materials technology uses common propane or butane cylinders to charge fuel cells that provide reliable portable power to critical electronic components like radios, GPS devices, cameras and battery chargers.

A propane cylinder and Adaptive Materials fuel cell might weigh four pounds. It replaces an exponentially heavier amount of batteries—40 pounds or more—that a soldier would otherwise need to carry to generate the same power.

The company is bidding to provide fuel cells to replace gas generators in European motor homes and hopes to sell them for use on ocean-going boats as well. The lightweight power devices also have applications for emergency responders in disasters—for example: to power portable generators, laptops, phones and emergency medical equipment in the aftermath of a hurricane or earthquake.

“We’ve got momentum,” said Crumm. “We want the day when we’re stamping out 10,000 parts a day!”
RELATED TOPICS: clean energy
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