By now, everyone knows that fuel cell power is the coming thing. Perhaps not for another decade, but definitely coming.

Meantime, everyone knows the price has got to come down. Way down. And that's where DuPont Automotive sees its opening.

Plastics giant DuPont announced last month that it has formed a fuel cell business unit “to pursue growth in the emerging proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell market.” It's become apparent that PEM is the front-running technology for automotive and stationary fuel cell designs, and DuPont says more specifically that its knowledge in polymers, coatings and electrochemical applications can bring intrinsic efficiencies to fuel cell design and manufacturing.

DuPont begins by supplying its Nafion perfluorinated polymer membrane, which for years has been standard-issue for aerospace fuel cell applications.

The company also says it is working to increase capacity for the Nafion material. And it says many types of plastic, in general, are a perfect fit for fuel cell applications because of their engineering properties and the ability to produce them in high volume and at low cost.

Meanwhile, fuel cell “engine” manufacturer XCELLSiS recently opened a new 53,000-sq.-ft. (4,900-sq.-m) headquarters and manufacturing facility in Poway, CA. XCELLSiS is owned equally by Ford Motor Co., Daimler-Chrysler AG and Ballard Power Systems.

The operation converts Ballard fuel cell stacks into “fuel cell engine systems,” earmarked for Mercedes and Ford fuel cell production vehicles due in 2004.

An XCELLSiS spokeswoman says the facility now is producing engines at an annual rate of 30 per year. There are about 110 permanent employees at the facility.

Ferdinand Panik, who heads DC's fuel cell vehicle research activities, is chairman of XCELLSiS, which has its main headquarters in Germany. The company also operates another facility in Vancouver, B.C.