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Summary:

MTI Microfuel Cells put out a triumphant press release last week about fuel cell technology. The cause for celebration was not an actual product, as their “award-winning,” Mobion fuel cell won’t see the market until likely 2009. Instead, they announced that the US Department of Transportation, […]

MTI Microfuel Cells put out a triumphant press release last week about fuel cell technology. The cause for celebration was not an actual product, as their “award-winning,” Mobion fuel cell won’t see the market until likely 2009. Instead, they announced that the US Department of Transportation, always fashion forward, had issued a proposed rulemaking to allow passengers to carry and use micro fuel cells on-board.

We started digging around among the players in the micro fuel cell market to see if a consumer could actually purchase a fuel cell and bring it anywhere, let alone on an airplane. At least a dozen companies tout micro/mini/consumer fuel cells as products they offer or will offer, including recent Atlas Ventures-funded Lilliputian, VantagePoint Venture Partners-backed Angstrom Power, Jadoo Power, Samsung, Motorola (MOT), MTI Micro, Manhattan Scientifics, Millennium, and a host of other companies. But are there actual boxes on shelves?

Well, we were only able to get a single portable consumer fuel cell product delivered. The distinction goes to Medis Technologies (MTDL) 24-7 Power Pack, available for $23.99 — you can purchase it from places like Mytreo.com. The technology is different than what other startups are working on and uses sodium borohydride to produce power.

“That product generates 20 watt hours with our basic power management system,” said Robert Liftarkion, CEO of Medis Technologies, when describing the Power Pack. That amount of power equates to about six or seven charges of a cell phone. Then it’s done and must be thrown away or recycled. He also emphasized that the company, “is very proud of the fact that [the Power Pack] is totally green.”

There are several problems with the device, both from a cleantech point of view and simply as a product. Even though the Power Pack is green-branded, it is disposable, generates a waste product (borax), and uses sodium borohydride, which costs more energy to produce than the product provides. Which means that over the lifecycle of the product, the Power Pack isn’t particularly sustainable. Second, to the consumer, whatever the fancy technology, it’s just a big disposable battery. It’s like buying a Brookstone Quick Charge, except that you can’t reload it.

Name the technology and call it a fuel cell, but ultimately, the Power Pack doesn’t seem like such a big an advance over current technologies. This is not the fuel cell that we dream about. The best we can say is that Medis has brought something to market, which is more than most other portable fuel cell companies have managed to do.

And if we’re just talking prototype products, we like Sony’s (SNE) biobattery better anyway.

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  1. MTI Micro’s CEO Talks, Getting Portable Fuel Cells to Market « Earth2Tech Thursday, September 27, 2007

    [...] 27th, 2007 at 6:00 am in Energy We gave portable consumer fuel cell developer MTI Micro a bit of a hard time in a post this week about how long the technology was taking to get to market — it’s slated for [...]

  2. I know it’s a bit late now but have you tried to order the Valeswood’s hydrogen fuel cell?
    (http://www.valeswood.com/hydrocell.php)

    The company mainly seems to be a technical consultancy/integrator but the Hydrocell might be actually their own product…

    -Thomas-

  3. “which costs more energy to produce than the product provides.”

    I’m a little confused about this comment. If it were the other way around – the product produced more energy than went into making it – then you could use the energy to make another product, and keep the surplus energy. You would have, in other words, a perpetual motion machine. Obviously this is impossible.

    Actually, by the second law of thermodynamics, all power sources cost more energy to create (conversion device + fuel) than they provide (energy output).

  4. Military Gets All the Fun Stuff: SFC Selling Mobile Fuel Cells for Defense « Earth2Tech Friday, February 20, 2009

    [...] other portable devices that you can buy right now. But their fuel cell runs on sodium borohydride, generating a waste product β€” borax β€” and costing more energy to produce than it provides. Of course, methanol isn’t [...]

  5. Fuel Cell Firm Feels the Pinch « Earth2Tech Tuesday, March 10, 2009

    [...] released its 24-7 Power Pack back in 2007. It’s a small fuel cell charger that runs on sodium borohydride that can be used for cell [...]

  6. Lilliputian Snags $28M for Consumer Electronics Fuel Cell Factory Friday, April 3, 2009

    [...] batteries and weigh 20 to 40 times less. Of course, fuel cells have been long on promises and short on products for decades, with a history of delays and missed milestones. And some fuel-cell companies are [...]

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