- Fuel Cell Rechargers Finally Here
- Researchers have finally transferred experimental fuel cells from the lab to handheld recharging stations that can replenish batteries in regions where electricity is scarce—from campsites to third-world outback.
University of Michigan spinoff SiGNa Chemistry Inc. claims to have solved the fuel cell problem, at least for small devices, with a replaceable hydrogen-bearing cartridge that can be used to generate electricity anywhere a tablespoon of water is available.
Fuel cells were supposed to rescue automobiles from the need for fossil fuels by consuming clean hydrogen instead of gasoline, but unfortunately the rigorous specifications for safety and longevity has put all-electric cars ahead of fuel cells for transportation power. However, for small devices like cell phones, SiGNa's new Mobile-H2 cartridges can supply the hydrogen needed to recharge batteries anywhere that line power in unavailable.
SiGNa's Mobile-H2 cartridges contain sodium silicide (NaSi) powder that produces pure hydrogen for fuel cells on-demand from a simple chemical reaction with water. The hydrogen from the cartridge can then be converted into electricity by a puck-sized fuel cell of the same dimensions as the cartridge—about an inch in diameter.
SiGNa's Mobile-H2 cartridges contain sodium silicide (NaSi) powder that produces hydrogen for fuel cells on-demand from reactions with water.
SiGNa was co-founded by Professor James Dye at the University of Michigan, who pioneered the chemistry breakthrough that enabled the sodium silicide cartridges to be commercialized. The only byproducts of the reaction are harmless sodium silicate and water vapor.
"By adding water to sodium silicide, we are able to produce hydrogen, which creates energy for fuel cells," said Dye. "The byproduct, sodium silicate, is also green. It's the same stuff found in toothpaste."
The first original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to make use of SiGNa's fuel cell technology is myFC AB (Stockholm, Sweden), which calls SiGNa's cartridge a "PowerPukk" and houses it in an enclosure alongside a second compartment holding the fuel cell. Called the PowerTrekk, the portable hydrogen fuel cell can recharge any small electronic device in the field. When the cartridge is exhausted, it can be safely discarded. Just insert a new PowerPukk into the PowerTrekk, and the device is again ready to recharge.
The fuel cell from myFC AB uses a SiGNa PowerPukk cartridge.
While other OEMs prepare products using SiGNa's Mobile-H2 cartridges for recharging small mobile devices, the company is working on larger versions to provide transportation power, the first of which will power electric bicycles. The company's current prototype for bicycles can generate up to 3-kiloWatts, capable of running an electric bicycle at 25 miles per hour for up to 100 miles.