updated 11:30 am EST, Sat January 10, 2009
Fuel cells reach consumers
Long-awaited fuel cell technology is about to reach consumers, and two companies are showing off competing technologies at CES. Medis Technologies is using alkaline technology in its squeeze-to-activate power packs, while Horizon Fuel Cell Tehnology is using compact hydrogen-based cylinders about the size of conventional flashlight batteries.
Medis' non-flammable borohydride-based technology is similar to that used in alkaline batteries "without producing any polluting emissions," according to the company. When a fuel cell is depleted, it can be recycled using the included container. The cell ships in a deactivated condition so it can be stored for long periods of time -- a squeeze brings it to life.
Medis is showcasing three products at CES. The 24/7 Fuel Cell Power Pak is designed for small electronic devices like iPods and cellphones, delivering 20 hours of continuous power. Medis estimates the cell can charge a smartphone up to 4 times and a conventional cellphone 6 times. The $25 power pack comes with a one-watt charger cable with a nokia tip and adaptors for standard USB, mini USB, micro USB, and the Palm Treo.
Designed for power-hungry smartphones, the Xtreme Portable Fuel CellPower Solution adds a more powerful 4-watt charger cable for $50. The Fuel Cell Emergency Kit includes the charger cable, tips and an LED flashlight in a plastic case for $60.
The 24/7 Fuel Cell Power Pak is available now at some Best Buy stores, the other two products should be available next month.
Medis' chief competitor, Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, has been around several years, selling educational kits that showcase proprietary solid form hydrogen-based cells. Horizon is preparing to release the MiniPak, a cellphone charger using stainless steel fuel cell cartridges.
Horizon says each cartridge is equivalent to 4 AA batteries, but in a smaller, recyclable form factor that contains no lead, mercury or cadmium. The product is being billed as a cost-effective high-performance green alternative to conventional batteries. Some environmentalists might not consider any disposable product to be green, but the company says its working on a home refilling kit or a system for exchanging used cells for new ones.
The MiniPak delivers about one watt through a USB socket for charging iPods and other small devices. About the size of a pocket camera, the MiniKit could be available this year. Final pricing has not been set, but company officials say the fuel cell cartridges are expected to sell for under $10.