A new handheld fuel cell system can power or charge your phone or GPS using hydrogen extracted from water. Yes, water.
You may have some trouble convincing airport staff to let you fly with it, but Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies has achieved a long-awaited gadget milestone with the launch of a handheld fuel-cell device the company claims will deliver as much power as 1000 AA alkaline batteries over its lifetime.
Fuel cells have been posited as an alternative source of power for years, with extensive ongoing research working on ways to miniaturise and stabilise fuel-cell technology to provide the first real alternative to good old AAs.
Horizon’s solution relies on a purpose-built cartridge, called a HydroStik, which is refilled from a “desktop hydrogen supply”. HydroStiks are inserted into the MiniPak
, a handheld conversion unit that produces 1.5W to 2W of continuous power and includes a standard 5V USB port to enable direct plugging-in of any USB-dependent device. Adapter tips support a variety of smartphones and GPS units from Motorola, LG, Sony, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, BlackBerry, HTC, and Garmin (here’s the official video
complete with 80s-styled synthpop ambient music).
The $US99 starter pack comes with the MiniPak unit and two HydroStiks, with additional HydroStiks costing less than $US10 each and a USB flashlight module thrown in for those who order before June 30. We don't have Australian availability information yet, but will update this story when we receive it.
Perhaps the coolest part of the Horizon solution comes in the form of the Hydrofill Personal Hydrogen Station, an AC-powered device that fills the HydroStik with hydrogen sourced from – yes, seriously – tap water.
The device appears to use your garden-variety electrolysis to separate the hydrogen gas from good old haych-too-owe, then store it in what Horizon calls “a solid metallic state” within a metal hydride
sponge that lets each cartridge store up to 12Wh of energy. To produce power, the cell draws in oxygen in measured amounts, creating a controlled combustion reaction that produces electricity for the USB port, and a small amount of water vapour.
Whether or not they can singlehandedly stem the torrent of billions of discarded batteries dropped into our landfills every year remains to be seen, but with fuel-cell technology like this now readily available – and higher-powered versions in the works for other devices (read: laptops) – consumer-level fuel cells are no longer the stuff of science fiction.
The full press release is available here