Fuel Cells May Power Mobile Devices

Power consumption is one of the biggest challenges of the emerging genre of small, mobile devices. Are they alternatives to the current rechargeable-battery technology? Writes ABCnews:

Companies such as MTI MicroFuel Cells showed off a portable fuel-cell device that could provide power to cell phones and laptops for days and weeks on end.

Neah Power Systems, a fuel-cell technology company in Bothell, Wash., thinks it is on the right path to more portable power.

On Monday, the company unveiled a patent-pending fuel-cell design that could fit within the case of an ordinary laptop computer battery, yet provides two or three times the power. The key to the new fuel cell, the company says, is its unique internal makeup.

Most traditional fuel cells rely on a so-called proton exchange membrane or PEM. Typically made of a flat sheet of precious metal such as platinum, the PEM provides the catalyst that causes hydrogen to give up its electron and produce electricity in the fuel cell.

Instead of a flat PEM, Neah’s proposed fuel cell uses a block of material made of “porous silicon.” Each microscopic pore of the material contains particles of catalyst that converts the hydrogen into electricity and water.

By “stacking” the reaction through the material’s microscopic honeycomb-like maze of pores and tunnels, Neah’s CEO David Dorheim says the technology allows for a much higher “energy density.”

“The PEM is an old technology where you need very large surface areas to create reactions,” says Dorheim. “Our stacked porous silicon allows for the same reactions to occur in a denser and smaller package.”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.