New Fuel Cell Battery Can Power Gadgets for Weeks
Batteries are the staple energy source of almost all portable gadgets that we regularly use today. Without the chemically stored potential energy of these small and compact energy sources, we would have been totally dependent on wires and cables for energy transfer.
The effectiveness of batteries in portable applications remains unquestionable. However, it becomes a whole different issue when we talk about efficiency. Even today, there is no battery that is both portable and powerful enough to power a gadget for a very long period of time. However, one recent breakthrough in the research and development of portable fuel cells might give us the perfect battery that could power your smartphones and ebooks for weeks at a time.
Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Basics
The solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) is a type of fuel cell that uses a negatively charged oxygen ion as the charge carrier of the battery’s cathode (the negative side). Just as its name implies, it uses a solid oxide material as the electrolyte, and it produces an electrical charge by oxidizing its fuel, mainly hydrogen, although carbon monoxide and other fuels can also be used. So, although the chemical reactions in an SOFC might look the same as the reactions found in an average hydrogen fuel cell, it actually operates on a different working principle.
The primary advantage of SOFC’s is that they are highly efficient and long lasting. These positive points are even augmented further with its relatively low cost. The greatest disadvantage of SOFC’s are their high operating temperature, and the long standing size limitation of most types of fuel cells.
The Lilliputian Systems Breakthrough
But even with the inherent problems in form factor flexibility, Lilliputian Systems seems to have successfully developed a new design for a fuel cell (based on the earlier designs when their researchers are still at MIT) that could be safely encased within the size of a typical lighter. The fuel cell design uses a silicon wafer, in which the solid oxide membrane is sandwiched between. The primary fuel used for this fuel cell is butane.
Their “Silicon Power Cell” is designed to be capable of charging any device that can be connected to a USB port, and is set to cost only about a few tens of dollars. Developers of the fuel cell claims that it is easily capable of charging your average iPhone at least 10 to 14 times before it gets used up. That is roughly equivalent to about almost 2 weeks of portable charging power. Other specifications, such as the actual amperage and selling price for each fuel cell is yet to be announced by the company.
Perhaps the best advantage that this lighter-sized fuel cell has is that although it cannot be recharged (for now), it only delivers or discharges power when needed, unlike batteries that often self-discharge when not used. This could mean that you can store these batteries for an indefinite amount of time, and could probably be very useful in emergency (storms and earthquakes) situations.
Also, depending on the final price tag of the product, their arrival could mean direct competition to the commonly used external USB lithium-ion battery packs (which are also designed to be used in the same way).
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