Portable fuel cells capture the imagination of just about all laptop warriors with their promise of unending off-grid power on the go. But they remain just a dream. As part of the new eco-focus at CES, Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, headquartered in Singapore, is showing off two concept designs of portable fuel cells, one for higher power applications like laptop computers and a smaller version for gaming devices, cell phones, and PDAs.
Produced and marketed in conjunction with Millenium Fuel Cell, the penny stock that bills itself as the “hydrogen battery company,” the larger version of the HydroPak will launch in the second half of 2008 with a planned production run of several thousand units. The main unit will retail for $400 with reloadable cartridges hitting the streets at $20. The cartridges provide 14 hours of power, making for a pretty tough value proposition when a similar amount of grid electricity would go for a few cents.
There is no current plan to commercialize the smaller version of the HydroPak for cell phones and other mobile devices. Instead, it is being shown at CES, “to gauge interest for a less expensive, smaller power source.” You might call it the vaporware of the future, given the history of fuel cells, but it’s certainly possible that fuel cells will turn a corner in the next couple of years. After all, Horizon did win the “Most Promising Technology” award at the Cleantech Forum XV in Beijing.
The Horizon/Millenium partnership will be competing with a slate of other companies making portable, mobile, or consumer fuel cells, including Atlas Ventures-funded Lilliputian, VantagePoint Venture Partners-backed Angstrom Power, Jadoo Power, Samsung, Motorola, MTI Micro, and Manhattan Scientifics. It should be noted, however, that the field remains wide-open.
But the company’s technological brain is its CTO, Dr. Arthur Koschany, who has been working in-and-around fuel cells for twenty years. In 2001, Time named a fuel-cell powered bicycle designed by Koschany an “Invention of the Year.”
Still, it’s hard to tell if Horizon possesses the kind of game-changing technology that it seems fuel cells need to really break into mainstream usage. Their technology pitch seems heavy on “we can do these things” without much emphasis on how their fuel cell technology will overcome the oft-noted difficulties in the space.
The company has received venture funding from Shanghai’s bScope Venture Partners, and feature bScope’s founder, Sebastian Piech, on their board. Horizon’s most recent financial activity was swapping $5 million in equity with Millenium, which got them 12% of the American company.