Progress Being Made on a Variety of Fuel Cells Approaches


Powering is a scary issue for the mobile industry. Devices are adding features and networks are adding bandwidth at a pace that far exceeds the ability to increase the juice in lithium-ion batteries or figure out ways to cut on-device usage. Fuel cells are seen as the way to address the problem. The challenge is creating cells that are small enough for use in portable devices.


There was good news this summer on the fuel cell front. In July, IT Business Edge referenced a report that PolyFuel was prototyping a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) in a Lenovo T40 ThinkPad. Last month, I noted reports that suggested progress at both the conceptual and practical levels.


Other advances have recently been made, and ideas abound. This piece discusses the Medis 24-7 Power Pack, a liquid fuel cell that can be used to recharge portable devices. The writer -- who points out that he is not a reviewer, but is acting like one -- says Medis claims the Power Pack can provide 30 hours of recharge time to an average mobile phone and 60 to 80 hours to an iPod. The starter kit is about $40 and replacement packs are $20 apiece. The tone of the story is that this is just the start for the Medis technology, which uses borohydride instead of the more common methanol.


Last month, Horizon Fuel Cell introduced what it said is the first direct ethanol fuel cell. The Bio Energy Diversity Kit uses commonly found alcohol and water in a 10 percent to 90 percent proportional mixture. The company introduced the related Bio Energy Discovery Kit to stimulate research and innovation, the release says. MP3 players and mobile phones are possible targets of the technology.


Still another interesting approach is the production of electricity from sugar. St. Louis University researchers have found a way to generate electricity from a glucose solution, soft drinks and tree sap. The piece also says that Arizona State University researchers have used borohydride to create a hydrogen-gas generator that could eventually be a fuel cell. Borohydride is an especially promising source, the writer says, because hydrogen can be freed without use of high temperatures.


Camera vendor Canon is incubating technology that could be used in mobile devices. It has filed a patent application for a fuel cell-powered digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera. In addition to the camera itself, the technology is aimed at accessories such as hotshoe flashes and lenses. The piece includes a very nice diagram.


If not addressed, powering problems could severely inhibit the mobile industry. The good news is that academic researchers, the military -- which needs to make sure equipment works for long periods in the field -- and vendors understand the importance of new approaches and are proactively responding.