Germany’s SFC Smart Fuel Cell said today it’s launching commercial sales of its portable fuel cell system, called the Jenny — one of only a handful of portable fuel cells to hit the market. But don’t go running out to your local electronics store just yet, as it’s only available for defense applications.
The wearable fuel cell, about the size of a hardcover book, isn’t exactly pocket-friendly, but it could help lighten the load for soldiers who SFC said typically have to carry multiple battery packs to keep all their gear running during long missions.
There are already some other companies that have portable fuel cell systems on the market for the military, at least for demonstration sales, including UltraCell and Jadoo Power, but SFC has the distinction of winning top spots in the U.S. Department of Defense’s first Wearable Power Competition last October. SFC took both first and third place, with the M-25 Portable Fuel Cell, which it co-developed with DuPont, taking the top spot, and the Jenny coming in at No. 3.
All of SFC’s fuel cells, from the small to the large, use direct methanol fuel cell, or DMFC, technology, with replaceable liquid methanol fuel cartridges. Some of the company’s bigger fuel cells, which can pump out up to 1,000 watts, are already sold for use in mobile homes, cabins, and boats, as well as for backup power and remote sensor applications.
The Jenny, which generates 25 W of power, has already made it out into the field, according to SFC’s 2008 third-quarter report. In the first half of last year, the company said it delivered an unspecified number of Jenny fuel cells for use in an international peacekeeping mission. Depending on how hot the weather was, and how much power was used, the Jenny should have been able to provide anywhere from 11 to 20 hours of power on that mission before needing a new methanol cartridge.
As for when the technology will trickle down to the consumer, Medis Technologies has come out with a small fuel cell charger for cell phones and other portable devices that you can buy right now. But their fuel cell runs on sodium borohydride, generating a waste product — borax — and costing more energy to produce than it provides. Of course, methanol isn’t so safe either, and the byproducts from methanol fuel cells are carbon dioxide and water.