Peronal fuel cell powers gadgets with water

A Singapore-based company has launched a portable fuel cell that can power gadgets using only water.

Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies claims its MiniPak can provide as much power as 1,000 disposable AA alkaline batteries over the lifetime of a single refillable cartridge.

The MiniPak delivers 1.5 to 2W of continuous power via a standard USB port, and uses refillable fuel cartridges to store up to 12Wh of net energy.

It can charge small portable devices such as cellphones, MP3/MP4 players and GPS, and also free up USB applications normally connected powered by PCs.

It’s a bit of a stealth product, says founder and chief marketing officer Taras Wankewycz, as the company started developing its fuel cell technology for the toy market.

“Few have realized the implications of these first products. They have in fact enabled Horizon to become the world’s largest volume producer of micro-fuel cells, and placed the company in a prime position to begin mass-commercialization into other new markets, including portable electronics,” he says.

The Minipak is effectively a miniature power plant that produces electricity directly from hydrogen at the point of use.

It uses a combination of Horizon’s mass-produced PEM fuel cells and a new low-cost metal hydride storage solution, which stores hydrogen safely as a dry, non-toxic and non-pressurized material.

The fuel cartridge contains a metallic sponge that is able to absorb hydrogen and turn it into a solid hydride. It is then able to release it back to the fuel cell when needed.

The PEM fuel cell combines oxygen from the air with the stored hydrogen – electricity via its USB port and trace amounts of water vapor.

At the moment, the device costs $99, but the company reckons it can get this down to just $29 once it ramps up production. Extra fuel cartridges will cost much the same as disposable alkaline batteries, it says.

Several other products are under development, says Horizon, which is also scaling up the size of its solutions.