Toilet bowls boost Porvair

Breakthroughs in areas as diverse as fuel cell technology and toilet bowl manufacture are expected to boost the results of UK company Porvair plc, due to unveil annual results tomorrow.

The East Anglia-based advanced materials company saw a sharp rise in its share price last year on the back of breakthroughs in a material which can be used in fuel cell technology.

Environmentalists and carmakers hope the technology – involving making electricity out of hydrogen – will produce an alternative to the petrol engine.

The new material, Micromass, developed by the US arm of Porvair, could be a boost in putting the technology into practical use.

Finance director Mark Moran, a member of the ICAEW, said the area is proving exciting for the company, but added: ‘You and me will not be driving around in fuel cells cars for at least 10 years.’

He pointed to domestic power generation in remote areas as an application for the new technology that could arrive sooner.

But despite its long-term nature, fuel cell technology is provoking huge interest. Clients of Porvair for its work in the area include International Fuel Cells, Nuvera, Shell Hydrogen and two major automotive manufacturers.

Moran said the company’s plans for the next year would revolve around how to ‘capture all this potential’. Research and development investment plans will be unveiled to shareholders next week, along with preliminary results for the year to 30 November 2000.

He highlighted the possibility of acquisitions in the US, where the fuel cell technology is based, and which currently accounts for around 40% of business.

Moran commented that a major challenge in his job was to balance the short-term need to meet targets and satisfy investors against the long-term nature of much of the company’s research and development work, and the investment it required.

But he seems to be rising to the challenge. The market has responded enthusiastically to news of the fuel cell breakthrough, and the annual profit before tax figure next week is expected to be around #6m – up from #4.2m last year. But although it is the fuel cell breakthrough that has hit the headlines, the company has also made breakthroughs in other areas – particularly toilet bowls.

Moran said a new process developed by the company’s acrylics division had revolutionised the process of making these products. ‘This is one of our major breakthroughs of the year,’ he said.

The process, based on a new material, which Moran described as the ‘holy grail’ of toilet bowl making, had proved extremely popular with manufacturers for whom it meant significantly reduced costs.

Manufacturers had previously relied on a labour intensive process based on plaster of Paris.

Other areas of the company’s work continue to perform well – including the Porvair’s long established polyurethane sock – which has now been overshadowed by more recent developments.

During 1998 and 1999 the company underwent a major cost-cutting and reorganisation programme, in which Moran was involved. The company is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The company’s website is at

A good site for information about fuel cells is SNAPSHOT Turnover 1999: #87.1m Profit before tax 1999: #4.2m Total 1999 dividend: 6.4p Executive directors: Ben Stocks, chief executive Mark Moran ACA, FD Auditor: PricewaterhouseCoopers Company activities: Development of advanced materials including fuel cell technology, aluminium filtration, sanitary and tableware.

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