News by Michael Oryl on Thursday January 12, 2006.
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Medis Fuel Cell
Medis Fuel Cell
On my last day at CES in Las Vegas this year, I spent some time with fuel cell developer Medis Technologies. The company is approaching retail availability of their consumer fuel cell, a disposable one-use unit that is meant to act as a backup power source, much as a CellBoost unit does.
Fuel cells have been a hot topic for years, promoting the dream that eventually we'll be able to drive our cars up to not a gas station, but a water station, fill up, and be on our way. But for now, fuel cells rely on a much more complicated, and generally hazardous, combination of chemicals. The typical modern day fuel cell relies on Methanol, a highly flamable liquid that can be difficult to transport safely in the small, portable form that would be required for cells used in portable devices like phones. Fuel cells also typically rely on platinum for both their anode (positive) and cathode (negative) electrodes, which is quite expensive.
The Medis fuel cell breaks from tradition in a number of ways. For one, they use a non-toxic, non-flamable borohydride - alkaline liquid and a proprietary alcohol based fuel that doesn't become flamable until a temperature of 250 degrees Celsius, or higher. Medis claims that the fuel in their cells is more "green" than the typical alkaline battery. To reduce the component cost of each cell, the company has also managed to develop a cathode that no longer requires platinum, and has hopes for removing platinum entirely from the equation in the future.
But enough of the science. What does it mean to you, as consumers? It means that depending on your particular phone or PDA, you should be able to recharge a number of times with the Medis fuel cell without being near a wall power source. Medis says that their fuel cell can generate 30 watt hours of power over the course of its 8 week lifespan, which they conservatively claim is good for 20 to 30 hours of talk time, depending on the device. That 8 week lifespan starts after you activate the unit by pressing the two halves together, a process that breaks the containers used to store the liquid components so that they can mix together and generate power.