Micro Fuel Cells

Micro fuel cells are generally targeted at replacing lithium ion and other types of batteries in consumer electronics. Some companies have demonstrated micro fuel cells that can power mobile phones for 30 days and laptops for over 20 hours. Many of these miniaturized fuel cells run on methanol.

Methanol Fuel Cells

In 2007, a reformed methanol fuel cell capable of providing up to 72 hours of power to a standard laptop was produced. The fuel cell weighs 70% less than standard rechargeable batteries and eliminates the waste and expense of disposable batteries. It was designed to be rugged enough for military use.

Aluminum and Water

Like portable fuel cells, micro fuel cells have been designed to run on hydrogen produced from mixing aluminum with water in the presence of sodium hydroxide. These fuel cells have the advantage of being lighter and less dangerous than methanol-based fuel cells. These fuel cells can produce 1.5 to 2 W of continuous power at 5V and allow for both conventional and USB recharging. They cost $99 and the cartridges that power them cost $10. While the cost of purchasing the replacement cartridges makes these more expensive than batteries over the long run, they are designed for recharging devices on the go, when wall sockets may not be readily available.

There is an interesting alternative to the above system that allows the cartridges to be refilled with hydrogen using AC power and the electrolysis of water. That means no aluminum is involved. This can greatly decrease the long-term costs. The cartridges use a metal hydride to absorb and store the hydrogen. Each stick is capable of storing up to 12 watt-hours of energy. Because these systems are infinitely rechargeable, unlike batteries, it is hoped they will gain popular use in order to stem the flow of batteries into landfills.

Future

It is predicted that micro fuel cells will become a necessity in the near future as portable devices like mobile phones and laptops consume ever more power. The application for these fuel cells is different than that for transportation, given that micro fuel cells offer tremendous advantages over current options in terms of length of operating time and, in some cases, cost.