HOT Then, HOTTER Now - Power, Fuel Cells And High-Temperature Research

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There are so many different up and coming high-tech industries that its hard to choose which to invest in but the power industry, fuel cells and high-temperature research might be the way to go. This historical piece offers some great insight into this sector's early years.

As the United States is admittedly behind Russia in the capability of sending heavy payloads into space, the Administration is committed to develop a new family of "super-booster" launching rockets to overcome the Soviet lead. Super boosters are rockets producing 1,000,000 and more pounds of thrust, about three times that generated by the nation's most powerful launching rocket.

The space program, said Ralph J. Cordiner, Chairman of General Electric, in The Space Frontier, "will also help to accelerate the development of new or unusual power sources, such as the fuel cell, thermionic converters, magnetohydrodynamics and vastly improved nuclear power sources."

The search for new sources of power is essentially the problem of "more power per pound of package." Or to be technical, maximum power and life and minimum weight and supporting equipment.

In fuel cells, analysts see uncertain future markets, though with almost unlimited potential. For consideration of investing in fuel cells, they generally disapproved the increasing tendency to become enthralled with a dramatic new product within a substantial company and to make an investment commitment based on the prospects for this new development even though at the very most it would account for a small percentage of corporate sales and profit.

There are two basic investment choices: first, protection of capital during the development period and protection from the possibility of failure of this program is best afforded by investment in broadly based companies with established and well-defined interests in other areas. However, eventual realization of fuel cell potential could well be obscured by growth in other areas of these companies, if not by their great size alone. Second, a more speculative approach would be the selection of one or more companies whose future growth is not as firmly identified or where size is not so overwhelming.

Emerging as a significant factor in the new power source field is Yardeny Electric Corporation which is producing patented silver-zinc and silver cadmium batteries specially designed for the rigors of outer space while providing from five to six times the energy of all ordinary batteries of comparable size and weight.

As important as the search for new power sources is the hunt for new high-temperature materials to be increasingly used in America's stepped up manned space programs.

An estimated 30,000 scientists in the United States are working on problems connected with extremely high temperatures. A large part of their work is concentrated in exploring for new materials or new combinations of materials that will hold up under extremely high temperatures and still perform well at ordinary temperatures. Such research is also being directed toward reshaping space craft to reduce the heat-of-friction problem.

The single most formidable obstacle to bringing a man safely back from the moon is, of course, to master the problem of how to protect him from terrible heats more than 4,000 degrees on the outer shell of his spacecraft. As yet, according to Raymond Stevens, president of Arthur D. Little, Inc., we haven't begun to understand temperatures of more than 2,500 degrees in any depth.

"In probing these heats," Mr. Stevens was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying. "We put ourselves on the threshold of a new frontier in science."

While many large companies are doing important work in high temperature research, speculative opportunities exist in small outfits such as Ilikon which are concentrating in this area for maximum exposure to the special high-temperature technology.

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