It may not look like much – a skeletal floppy disk covered in tracing paper – but it could well change the world.

The revolutionary fuel cell produced by Ceres Power emits a constant supply of electricity when fuel is passed over one surface and air over the other.

Trials have shown that, when installed in a domestic boiler-type device, they can cut household electricity bills by 90% and carbon emissions in half.

It is truly 21st century technology – environmentally friendly, cheap and highly efficient. And it is made in Sussex.

After more than a decade of careful development, Ceres is now ready to mass produce the cells and will open a manufacturing plant in Horsham, not far from its current base at Denvale Trade Park, Haslett Avenue East, Crawley.

The company hopes to start production at the end of the year and eventually aims to employ hundreds of people.

The cells have already won praise from former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who name-checked Ceres during a speech on climate change in 2004, and Gordon Brown, who visited the Crawley site in June 2007.

When the first cell comes off the production line it will be a triumphant moment for everyone at the company, but especially for the scientists at Imperial College London who had the original idea.

Back then, the accepted wisdom was that fuel cells could never be small enough, robust enough or cheap enough to make a difference in the energy market.

But the boffins persevered and in 2001 formed Ceres to turn their brainchild into commercial reality.

In order to make things happen, Ceres hired Peter Bance as chief executive, pretty much the perfect man for the job.

The 36-year-old Canadian can lay claim to both scientific genius and business savvy.

After studying physics and chemistry in his home country, he won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford, where he completed a Phd in physics.

He said: “Winning the scholarship was life-changing. The odds are stacked so much against you, it felt like winning the lottery.

“It opened up a whole career path for me which was otherwise a fantasy.”

His time at Oxford also helped him indulge his passion for rowing and he took on rivals Cambridge in the historic boat race two years running.

“In Canada, rowing was a very marginalised sport, something you only did if you couldn’t play ice hockey.

“At Oxford, it is a premier sport which allowed me to travel the world. I spent about ten years of my life training five to seven hours a day. It was effectively a full-time job.

“But I participated in world-class international sport and received a world-class education at the same time.

“We lost both boat races but got our revenge at the world university championships in Taiwan, where we came in second, ahead of Cambridge.”

Although he loved Oxford, Peter admitted his time in the lab “scared me off academia forever”.

He added: “I loved technology but did not want to build a career doing R&D in a university lab. I would have found that souldestroying.

“But it did install a passion that technology can change the world.”

Instead of staying in the lab, Peter went into business to find “the point where technology and money met”.

He worked on a range of international assignments in product development and underwent due diligence for venture capitalists looking to invest in the latest technology.

After a while he formed his own company which did a number of deals including creating new technological businesses, fundraising and technology licensing.

He said: “I have always understood that technology can turn into money.

Starting a company from scratch gave me the experience of spotting winners and losers.”

After doing so many deals for clients, soon Peter was searching for something that he could invest his own money in.

He said: “I took my time to wait for a really big idea I could bet my career on.”

That came in 2003 when he received a call from the chairman of Ceres. Bance spotted the potential of their fuel cell almost immediately and was delighted to become chief executive officer.

He said: “I thought this was the real deal.

It was the right idea at the right time.

“When I saw what they were doing I thought ‘wow’ because it went so much against the grain of the accepted wisdom.

“I thought it was an amazing invention where the possibilities were endless but the reality was almost totally non-existent.

“A lot of people think that to go green they need to really change their lifestyle but with this you do not have to change at all.

“All the customer does is turn it on and it does its stuff. Historically fuel cells have been delicate, bulky and expensive. But this was cost effective and high performing.”

It could also make money. Lots of money.

“You can do the right thing for the planet but still be a profit-motivated company. We are trying to save the world and make a buck. I think that’s possible and should be encouraged,” he added.

The chief executive admits his interest is weighed more in favour of what is commercial than what is ecologically friendly but is keen to point out he walks the green walk.

“I bike into work every day, which is 30 to 40 miles a day. It is a great way of starting the day. I also recycle, minimise my energy usage and try not to drive. Fitness and energy are a key part of my lifestyle.”

Although the fuel cell is powered by gas, a fossil fuel, Peter said the attitude among climate campaigners has changed in recent years in recognition that totally abandoning such fuels is not realistic.

He added: “For a while, any company that used fossil fuels was seen as part of the problem but now organisations such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace recognise that those companies which can dramatically improve the efficiency of fossil fuels are a good thing.”

Ceres’ other detractors were the electricity companies, who unsurprisingly were not enamoured with a device that could cut the money they make by 90%.

But they too are coming round.

He said: “The big electricity companies can either ignore the fact this is going to happen, which will mean they will probably lose out when it does, or they can join us and exploit the opportunity.

“That is what is beginning to happen.

They now see it as an opportunity rather than a threat.”

Under Bance’s guidance, Ceres has so far raised £45 million of equity investment.

Imperial College London still has a major shareholding, owning about 6% of the company.

In the past 18 months, Ceres has signed deals with both British Gas and Calor Gas, allowing it to double in size from 50 to 100 staff.

“We are a business to business company and have chosen a partnership model because it gives us access to millions of customers without having to worry about things like sales and marketing or distribution,”

Peter said.

“This kind of product can become the standard for almost every home. The scale of the climate change challenge is such that unless we focus on technology that can be delivered in its millions or even billions then we will not make a difference.”

Ceres hopes to sign its first overseas contract by the end of the year.

He added: “The whole world is looking for green solutions and the cost effectiveness of those ideas is more important than ever.”

This is why it has the potential to lead the world of clean energy.

“It has been an emotional roller-coaster for the past eight years. Right now we are on an up – a big up – and it feels great to be involved.

“Our ambitions are global. We are trying to become the Intel of the power cell market.

What they did for computers, our cells can do for clean energy generation.”