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Ballard Power Systems Seeks China Fuel-Cell Partners

Ballard Power Systems Inc., the biggest maker of automotive fuel cells, is in talks with Chinese companies as it seeks research and manufacturing partners in the nation, Chairman John Sheridan said.

The talks are at the early stages, Sheridan told reporters in Beijing. He declined to identify the potential partners, or say how much the Canadian company, which is partly owned by DaimlerChrysler AG and Ford Motor Co. plans to invest in the world’s third-largest vehicle market.

‘We think it would make sense to have at least one research partner, a university, and a commercial partner as well, whether that would become two or one we are not sure at this stage,’ he said.

Ballard, which hasn’t been profitable since 1998, today delivered three buses equipped with its fuel cells to Beijing’s local government for a pilot project. Before developing economically feasible fuel cells for cars, the company must lower costs estimated at more than $1 million per vehicle by Honda Motor Co., and address a lack of cheap hydrogen and fueling stations.

Vancouver-based Ballard, which currently doesn’t have any offices or companies in China, spent $92 million on research last year and had a $175.4 million net loss in 2004. The company expects to have competitive products as ‘real alternatives’ of gasoline and diesel by 2010, Sheridan said.

The company has been discussing the technology with China for more than a year and Chinese President Hu Jintao toured its research and manufacturing facilities during a North American visit in September.

‘When you look at the potential in China, the growth in China, and the environmental issues in China, there are natural forces there saying that China could be the number one market for fuel cell technology,’ Sheridan said.

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