Green Gadgets | February 28, 2011 |
Fuel Cell Envy
Last week, I attending the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Conference held in Washington, D.C. A few things struck me. First, there are innovators all over the world doing interesting work and, more importantly, working to commercialize products. Second, people came from far and wide. Many did not come to exhibit, but rather to talk to people like the analysts at Pike Research about their plans, their product, and their outlook on the market. This was great to hear and I really appreciate being given a chance to hear firsthand how successful these businesses are becoming.
Finally, for the first time, I had fuel cell envy. Yes, it’s true. For the first time since I’ve been attending these conferences, I saw a product that I wanted. Right now, in fact.
The culprit was the Horizon MiniPAK. The MiniPak is a fuel cell charging device that is suitable for mobile phones, MP3 players, and other small consumer electronics requiring up to 2 W of power. I already have a similar product that charges using a USB wall connection or a USB connection on my computer. The MiniPAK, however, is fuelled using a metal hydride cartridge the company calls a HydroSTIK. Conveniently enough, the HydroSTIK looks just like a large battery. The company also offers a home refueling “station” for the cartridges that uses a small solar panel to electrolyze water and fill the cartridges. That unit is pricey, however, and is currently tagged at $500. The company’s website says that the station could be used for other fuel cell devices, but I am not entirely sure how that will work out.
Why the fanfare over another fuel cell powered charger? After all, Horizon is not the only company to announce that it has developed a product like this. Toshiba sold 3,000 Dynario devices in Japan just a couple years ago. That unit used a direct methanol fuel cell and required liquid fuel cartridges. The company envisioned that corner grocery shops everywhere would eventually distribute the methanol cartridges. That has yet to happen and it’s unclear where the company is in terms of final product development.
First, Horizon has a reputation for commercializing fuel cell products. The company’s education kits and fuel cell cars have done very well. Second, the metal hydride fuel cartridge will make refueling less challenging for consumer who are accustomed to batteries and not to methanol fuel cartridges. This will also be simple to use and carry aboard aircraft. Third, I like that the company offers a mail-in refueling service for people who accumulate ten cartridges. Finally, I saw the MiniPAK in action – it charged my smartphone while I chatted with the company’s representatives about not only the MiniPAK but also Horizon’s aerospace, light duty vehicles, toys, and education kit fuel cells.
Horizon is currently in the process of getting CE marking and UL listing for the MiniPAK before it can sell it at big box electronics retailers. In the meantime, the company is offering evaluation units at $99 and I still have fuel cell envy.
Anissa Dehamna is a research analyst for Pike Research with a concentration on emerging energy technologies and sustainable development.