Imagine driving from Times Square in New York to Miami Beach in South Florida without filling up the gas tank. Now, imagine doing that in an automobile that retails for less than $30,000.
That’s the dream of Redox Power Systems LLC, a Fulton-based company that is developing high-efficiency and low-cost fuel cells with applications that range from powering homes and schools to replacing the internal combustion engine of an automobile.
“There are practically no moving parts. You would replace a very complex engine with something that essentially has no parts,” said Warren Citrin, Redox’s CEO and director. “In 24 months, we are trying to develop partnerships that would allow us to demonstrate a vehicle that could reach triple-digit mileage [per gallon of fuel].
“It’s not out of the question.”
Redox’s technology is based on the research of University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering professor Eric D. Wachsman, who is director of the university’s Energy Research Center.
The fuel cell company is just one example of technology research within the University System of Maryland trying to make it into the marketplace. A resolution passed by the system’s Board of Regents in March included provisions intended to force more of that research — mainly at the University of Maryland Baltimore and the University of Maryland, College Park — into the commercial world.
“The idea there is to look for the most [marketable] outflow of research and start technology companies, hopefully high-growth, high-tech companies that come out of the research here at the university,” said David F. Barbe, director of College Park’s Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, also called MTech.
Redox is one of 70 companies that have been started based on research at the university in the last two years. The University System of Maryland as a whole intends to create 325 companies by 2020.
The trick is finding the money to continue research and development, Citrin said.
“There is a good bit of risk taking it from the laboratory to putting it in an actual physical configuration someone can use,” he said. “Someone has to be willing to lose the money and take a shot at it. If it doesn’t work, I won’t be the least bit sorry for having tried. The potential payoff for society as a whole … I think is just an enormous benefit for society.”
Other companies have similar aspirations. Matthew Dowling, CEO of College Park-based Remedium Technologies Inc., said his work could have major medical implications if the company’s product receives Food and Drug Administration approval and continues to obtain funding for research and development.
The company is seeking to market a material able to grip blood cells in such a way that it creates barriers to blood flow. Dowling, a University of Maryland graduate student, calls the technology “hemogrip.”
“It’s very robust and also reversible,” he said. “We have control over when we stop bleeding or when we want to remove the hemostatic material.”
The primary product could be a bandage, but development of a spray foam is also underway. Dowling warned that the company is still in very early stages. But, he said, with the right partner, it could be marketing the technology in a matter of years.
“I really don’t see how we could have done any of this without the university, particularly a company like ours, which requires so much pre-capitalization to get anywhere,” Dowling said. “We’ve been provided that here with a lot of expertise from folks at MTech and the business school and the engineering school.”
Other companies include OmniSpeech LLC, which is developing a product that extracts voice signals from background noise and could make cellular phone conversations more clear, and Flexel LLC, which is developing light, flexible batteries that could be placed on the lid of a laptop computer or significantly reduce the weight of a soldier’s pack.
Brian Darmody, the University of Maryland’s associate vice president for research and economic development, said the university — and every state school — is trying to make sure that good technology ideas stay in-state. Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder, received his undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland, but the Internet giant got its start in California.
“We have to make it so the next Google is not started in Menlo Park; it’s started in College Park,” Darmody said.