There’s a story on Reuters hinting that we could be just a couple years away from seeing a more consumer-friendly usage of fuel-cell technologies. It’s main application is to charge the batteries of today’s numerous mobile devices from iPods to dLSRs, from cellphones to laptops.
Fuel cells, in which a tiny amount of fuel flows into a small chip to generate electricity without combustion, would allow users to skip the wall plug and simply swap out a fuel cartridge to continue listening to music or check e-mail.
Bradford thinks products are now truly a year or two away, as electronics manufacturers show more interest and fuel cell makers move beyond trade-show prototypes.
“We are closer, much closer, than even two years ago in terms of the companies’ internal designs, how they’ve met their milestones and just the amount of testing and evaluation that’s going on right now,” Bradford said.
Lilliputian Systems Inc., a Wilmington, Mass., firm founded by former Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, plans to introduce a portable fuel cell late next year for any device that can be charged via a USB port.
Instead of plugging into a wall socket, fuel-cells simply need to replenish their fuel supply, which according to the news story would come in small canisters of butane or methanol.
Of course, other fuels would also work, including my personal pick, hydrogen, which is far more abundant in supply and produces water as bi-product. However, safely handling hydrogen for consumer-grade fuel-cells are still in the development stage.
For the next couple of years, we would have to make do with butane cartridges once the first wave of consumer-ready fuel-cells become available. Imagine laptops running for days on end without being hooked up to a wall socket? Mobile phones having more talk-time than before? Wouldn’t that be awesome?
I do have one concern though, if the first wave of fuel-cells that could hit shelves in the next two to five years would rely on butane, methanol and other fossil-fuels, would it add more pressure on the demand side for oil, thus further increasing its price?
Ah the bane of consumerism, I do hope hydrogen-based fuel-cells would come out sooner instead.