Technology that allowed tiny fuel cells, powered by combustible liquids or gasses, which could power a laptop for days between refills, have been stalled because regulators were not convinced they were safe.
Now the US government has removed a key roadblock when the Department of Transportation amended its hazardous materials regulations to allow cells with methanol, butane or formic acid to be carried on airplanes.
Previously it thought that since Methanol and butane were flammable, and formic acid is corrosive, it was not a good idea to have them on aircraft, which meant fuel cell development had remained in limbo.
Sara Bradford, an energy and power systems consultant for Frost & Sullivan said that one of the largest challenges to this market was to overcome that regulation problem.
Use of fuel cells where a tiny amount of fuel flows into a small chip to generate electricity without combustion, means that users will swap out a fuel cartridge to continue listening to music or check e-mail.
Bradford said that such products are now a year or two away, as electronics manufacturers show more interest and fuel cell makers move beyond trade show prototypes.
Lilliputian Systems said it will introduce a portable fuel cell late next year for any device that can be charged via a USB port.
The cigarette-pack-size charger will use a canister of butane, the same fuel used in cigarette lighters, to power up an iPod, BlackBerry, GPS device or digital camera.
Mouli Ramani, Lilliputian's vice president of business development said that a teaspoon of the fuel can provide 20 times the run time of a battery of the same size.
It will be sold as a charging system pack for between US$100 and US$150 with refill cartridges costing US$1 to US$3.
Fuel-cell powered devices getting closer to reality
By Nick Farrell on Dec 2, 2008 6:44AM