Handheld electronics get a much-needed energy boost
The day you never need to recharge your cell phone - or any other gadget - just got a lot closer. Fuel cells have long been heralded as the way to eradicate the scourge of all handheld electronics: the dead battery. With their greater power-to-volume ratio, fuel cells last exponentially longer than batteries, and they can be rejuiced with a disposable methanol cartridge, effectively zeroing downtime. But nobody had been able to miniaturize them in a convincing application until June, when MTI Micro powered up a prototype pocket PC with its Mobion methanol fuel cell.
The demonstration wasn't merely a tantalizing show-and-tell, Intermec, which develops inventory systems for the likes of Wal-Mart, is rolling out a radio-frequency identification (FID) reader incorporating Mobion early next year. The IPD-FC/750 RFID reader is the first handheld commercial product to utilize a fuel cell - in this case, as a way to continuously trickle-charge the device's lithium-ion battery. The reader will run for 30 hours, rather than eight, before it needs a new cartridge.
MTI Micro's breakthrough was in water management. Typically, water critical for the electron-producing reaction at the negative terminal (and generated at the positive terminal) is shuttled to and fro using tiny channels and pumps - an impediment to cost-effective manufacturing. Mobion (mtimicrofuelcells.com) is built with a water moving membrane not unlike GoreTex instead of intricate microplumbing, so it can be made by simple injection molding.
MTI's strategy? use the industrial market to segue into consumer electronics. Mobion is a fancy first step.