Traditionally, the fuel cell has been too bulky and costly to beat out batteries for mobile use, but the military is already using devices such as the UltraCell XX25 unit to power equipment in the field.
Traditionally, the fuel cell has been too bulky and costly to beat out batteries for mobile use, but the military is already using devices such as the UltraCell XX25 unit to power equipment in the field. “We’ve gotten very positive feedback from soldiers,” says UltraCell CEO Keith Scott, noting that use of the cell lightens a soldier’s load by up to 80%.
While fuel cells are increasingly viable for military and emergency-response applications, the consumer market remains the Holy Grail for developers. Until last year, a federal ban on flammable chemicals on all flights was a major obstacle. With that restriction now lifted and production costs decreasing, it’s a race to get these products on the shelf.
One of the niftiest prototypes is MTI Micro’s Mobion power pack. Each replaceable methanol cartridge provides 25 hours of juice. They’re working with partners such as Samsung to incorporate the technology into everything from cell phones to digital cameras. While it’s not the greenest option available, most developers are relying on methanol as their fuel choice. “Methanol is a convenient, eco-friendly fuel with very high energy density,” says SFC (Smart Fuel Cell) CEO, Peter Podesser. “You can take a lot of power with you, with very little weight and size.”
Already on the market is a non-methanol system, the 24/7 Xtreme Portable Fuel Cell Charger by Medis. The $35 kit runs on slightly greener sodium boro-hydride, but there have been hiccups. In June, Computer Times magazine gave it their Editor’s Choice Award, only to rescind a few days later due to safety concerns.