A Canadian hydrogen fuel-cell maker has purchased most of Bend-based IdaTech's product line and intellectual rights to the IdaTech brand.
Ballard Power Systems, which is based in British Columbia, expects to finalize the acquisition by the end of this week, spokesman Guy McAree said Monday.
Ballard Power, a publicly traded company that operates in the United States under the name Ballard Material Products, is paying $7.7 million for the purchase.
It's being funded through an issuance of common shares at $1.08 per share. Those funds will go to Investec, an asset management bank and IdaTech's biggest investor.
Ballard has worked with IdaTech for several years, as a supplier of the Bend company's fuel-cell stacks and a partner in the development of some of its products.
But the acquisition gives Ballard control of IdaTech's best-selling product lines. That includes its ElectraGen fuel-cell systems and its recently developed backup power system fueled partly by methanol.
IdaTech President and CEO Hal Koyama did not respond to several messages and emails seeking comment. So the impact of the sale on IdaTech is unclear.
McAree said he couldn't rule out a number of scenarios for the company, including a potential move away from Bend — a step IdaTech had considered in 2004.
Ballard officials have not had formal discussions about the company's future, he said.
But it's among a number of possible changes officials will discuss once the purchase is finalized.
“We have to make a number of decisions in terms of what to do with these assets,” McAree said. “It's still very preliminary.”
Fuel cells create electricity electrochemically, by combining hydrogen and oxygen. They can create up to several megawatts of energy, if stacked together.
The acquisition gives Ballard control of IdaTech's technology development department and part of its sales team. Twenty of IdaTech's 90 workers will become Ballard employees as soon as the deal closes, McAree said.
It's uncertain what will happen to the remaining workers, with IdaTech no longer in control of its main product lines.
Buying IdaTech's fuel-cell lines positions Ballard to expand its fuel cells into foreign countries.
Ballard had been pushing to reach new customers in Brazil and Indonesia before the IdaTech purchase, documents filed in February with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission show.
The methanol backup power supply is an especially strong product line for these markets, McAree said. Methanol can react with oxygen in the same fashion as hydrogen, but it's cheaper and easier to transport.
“We see real growth opportunities for these fuel-cell products, particularly in some of these emerging economies,” he said. “Fuel cells are a nice solution in those environments where batteries don't do well because of those hot, humid conditions. IdaTech has developed a product line using methanol fuel, which is more readily available than hydrogen in a lot of these countries.”
For Ballard, the move is likely an effort to keep growing into key markets, including the United States, said Jennifer Gangi, spokeswoman with Fuel Cells 2000, a Washington, D.C., non-profit that monitors companies in the fuel-cell industry.
“This isn't the first time Ballard has acquired a telecommunications-focused backup power company,” Gangi said.
Ballard in early 2010 bought fuel-cell backup power company Dantherm Power, headquartered in Denmark.
“I see (the IdaTech acquisition) as Ballard consolidating their resources under one umbrella,” she said.
The announcement of Ballard's purchase surprised local economic development officials.
Roger Lee, executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, said he would contact Ballard and IdaTech officials to see what steps EDCO could take to try to ensure IdaTech remains in Bend.
“We'll see if there's something we can do to make sure that the acquiring company understands the importance of keeping jobs” in Bend, Lee said.
IdaTech had considered leaving in 2004, after the company struggled to secure a lease for its new offices on Northeast 18th Street. But $150,000 in incentives from the city of Bend and economic development groups persuaded company officials to stay, according to The Bulletin's archives.
Lee said there would be no effort to try to reclaim that money if Ballard decided to relocate IdaTech. “The incentives that were offered to the company are pretty far in the past,” Lee said. “They've satisfied the obligations” of those funds.
IdaTech secured $10.7 million in state energy tax credits from 2005 to 2009. The company had employed 140 workers, before laying off 50 in June.
It also has operations in Mexico, having entered into a partnership deal with Microm Electronica in 2007.
IdaTech reported a loss of $11 million in the first half of 2011. Shareholders voted in November to take the company private, so more recent data isn't available.
IdaTech was founded in 1996. It was purchased in 2007 by Investec, which has offices in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia.
Ballard Power Systems was founded in 1979. The company had focused on developing fuel-cell technology for cars, before shifting its focus to commercial energy markets in 2007.