Researchers ready $30 fuel cell mobile phone recharger

Taiwan's ITRI developed a plastic solid-state hydrogen as fuel for the device

Taiwanese researchers have built a new mobile-phone recharger based on fuel cell technology they say will cost little once manufacturing partners are on board.

The handset rechargers, which contains the fuel cell, will cost around US$30, while the fuel itself will come in small blue plastic tubes for about US$0.30 each, said Jerry Ku, a researcher at the Industrial Technology Research Institute, a government funded lab in Taiwan.

"The fuel canisters are inexpensive and small. They could be sold at 7-Eleven," he said.

The real innovation by ITRI is the fuel for the recharger, plasticized solid-state hydrogen. The plastic is soft enough that it can be shaped to suit the needs of different devices. It's designed to react with water to release the hydrogen to a fuel cell to produce electricity.

Commonly, electricity is produced in a fuel cell when oxygen reacts with hydrogen, giving off water as a by-product. Fuel-cell technology is viewed as more environmentally friendly than traditional batteries because the chemicals used are typically more earth friendly than those in regular batteries.

ITRI has already created working prototypes of the mobile phone charger and the blue fuel tubes, which house the plasticized solid-state hydrogen and water. The research group has already started developing laptop battery chargers as well, but Ku was unable to say when prototypes might be ready.

People using the handset recharger will get a two-hour charge per $0.30 tube of fuel, then they'll need to buy a new tube.

There are other kinds of fuel cells.

Toshiba has been promising a portable battery charger for electronic devices based on a DMFC (direct methanol fuel cell). In DMFCs, methanol, water and air react to produce electricity, giving off a small amount of water vapor and carbon dioxide as by-products. The methanol needed for the chargers will come in cartridges.

The company has said its first DMFC charger could be out within the next few months, though it was originally due out earlier this year.

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Dan Nystedt

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