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At last! An affordable, portable, pocket-sized Personal Fuel Cell

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June 15, 2010

The Horizon MiniPak will almost certainly be the public's first experience of the coming H...

The Horizon MiniPak will almost certainly be the public's first experience of the coming Hydrogen Economy.

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Today is a day that you will probably tell your grandchildren about – the day they released the first affordable, pocket-sized fuel cell for personal usage. As with flying cars, personal jet packs and a usable voice recognition computer interface, the promise of a safe, affordable, personal power plant was entering the realm of perpetual vaporware. Now it's finally here! Whatsmore, at US$100, the Horizon MiniPak might well prove to be the “disruptive” technology the press release claims it to be. By producing electricity from hydrogen at the point of use and offering effectively unlimited run-time for personal electronics, it will almost certainly be the public's first experience of the coming Hydrogen Economy.

It's the first fuel cell product to compete on cost with both disposable and rechargeable batteries with just one refillable cartridge supplying as much power over its life as 1000 disposable AA alkaline batteries. Completing the fairytale sustainability pitch, it's also 100% recyclable, uses no heavy metals and there are no toxic liquids involved.

Specifically designed for portable consumer electronics, the MiniPak offers unlimited portable power for your cellphone, smartphone or personal media device. At higher production levels, prices are expected to drop to US$30, with fuel cartridge prices eventually comparable with disposable alkaline batteries, and refilling costs of just a few cents. Yep, this IS an important date in technology history because run-time will soon cease to be a limiting factor to productivity, connectivity, and lifestyle-enhancing electrically-powered everything such as flashlights, wireless speaker systems, personal mosquito repellents and GPS devices.

While Horizon's personal fuel cell is not the first such device, it is certainly the first affordable and readily available personal power plant. Toshiba has had such a device on the market in Japan for around six months. The Toshiba Dynario weighs 280 grams, measures 15cm x 2.1cm x 7.45cm and can produce enough power in 20 seconds to charge two mobile phones. The power is stored in in-built lithium ion batteries and costs around US$275 with the 50ml cartridges at US$30 a pop – far more expensive to buy and run than the MiniPak.

The MiniPak delivers 1.5 to 2W of continuous power using a standard USB port, and uses refillable fuel cartridges with up to 12Wh of energy. It is designed to extend the charge of small portable electronics. Although the Minipak’s capability is limited to small devices, it is effectively a miniature-scale power plant that produces electricity directly from hydrogen at the point of use.

The MiniPak uses a combination of Horizon’s mass-produced PEM fuel cells and a new low-cost metal hydride storage solution, which is able to store hydrogen safely as a dry, non-toxic and non-pressurized material. The fuel cartridge contains a metallic sponge that is able to absorb hydrogen and turn it into a solid hydride. It is then able to release it back to the fuel cell when needed. The PEM fuel cell combines oxygen from the air with the stored hydrogen - electricity via its USB port and trace amounts of water vapor.

Similar to a pocket-size distributed energy system, it avoids the energy losses that occur between the power plant and the battery operated devices that we charge from powerpoints. Cumulatively, these losses are massive. There are roughly 10,000 power plants in the US with an average thermal efficiency of 33%, and transmission losses of around 5-10%. When it comes to portable electronics, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that in 2004 in the US alone, there were 2.5 billion AC to DC power adapters consuming 207 billion kWh per year or up to 6% of the US$247 billion national electric bill. It is further estimated that 6 to 10 billion similar devices are presently in use worldwide, operating at an energy efficiency of around 50%. Whereas the MiniPak is not applicable to all AC to DC powered devices, it can indeed participate in reducing billions of dollars of wasted energy costs.

Besides contributing to overall efficiency, Horizon’s new micro-fuel cell system offers numerous environmental benefits. Just one of its Hydrostik fuel cartridges can deliver the same amount of power over its lifetime as over 1000 disposable alkaline AA batteries, while storing more energy at a lower cost. In addition, the cartridges do not contain any toxic materials and can be completely recycled, using conventional methods. “Over the past 4 years, Horizon has brought to market several award-winning products to retail environments in over 60 countries around the world. As these were primarily toys, few have realized the implications of these first products. They have in fact enabled Horizon to become the world’s largest volume producer of micro-fuel cells, and placed the company in a prime position to begin mass-commercialization into other new markets, including portable electronics. Our global market experience and mass-production are already in place, and with costs competitive to disposable batteries, Horizon’s refillable fuel cell products shift the paradigm”, noted Taras Wankewycz, Founder and Chief Marketing Officer.

The MiniPak is Horizon’s first portable fuel cell product to enter the market, while several others are currently under joint development with various large-scale global market leaders. Horizon is also scaling up the size of the solutions, since they offer the promise of storing renewable energy in larger quantities with no self-discharge and at a lower cost than batteries, therefore opening a path towards independent, distributed energy in homes, businesses and other industrial applications.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon After Editing or Managing over 50 print publications primarily in the role of a Magazine Doctor, Mike embraced the internet full-time in 1995 and became a "start-up all-rounder" – quite a few start-ups later, he founded Gizmag in 2002. Now he can write again.   All articles by Mike Hanlon
19 Comments

Something's not adding up here. Perhaps I missed something but the article says the cartridge delivers 12Wh, then later it says the energy equivalent of 1,000 AA batteries. I don't have the exact numbers handy but 12Wh is equivalent to maybe 3 or 4 AA batteries, not 1,000.

CaptNemo
15th June, 2010 @ 09:16 pm PDT

Very good invention. It is heartening to note more Industries are turning to Fuel Cells which may lead to HYDROGEN ECONOMY.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

Anumakonda Jagadeesh
15th June, 2010 @ 11:03 pm PDT

Sweet, but this needs to be put into a laptop battery form factor and i think Hydrogen will really take off when people have their own production at home. A reasonably sized solar panel and a small tank could sort out all your transportation needs.

David Anderton
16th June, 2010 @ 01:00 am PDT

From an other (serious) point of view the hydrogen economy has no future:

http://www.physorg.com/news85074285.html

Ghizmo
16th June, 2010 @ 01:02 am PDT

Where can I find the hydrogen charging station?

Do they have a product?

bio-power jeff
16th June, 2010 @ 02:34 am PDT

I agree with CaptNemo about the numbers not adding up. An AA alkaline battery is typically rated between 1000mAh and 3000mAh depending on load. At a voltage of 1.5V, this equates to between 1.5Wh and 4.5Wh. Also compare that to a standard laptop battery (which is a similar size to the MiniPak) with 4400mAh @ 11V = 48.4Wh. Perhaps the fuel cell capacity is 12kWh (12,000Wh)??

TNS
16th June, 2010 @ 03:53 am PDT

@CaptNemo I agree its misleading, it seems the 1000 factor is over the lifetime of the refillable cartridge. On one charge you just get 12 watt hours, which really doesn't live up to the hype of this article. The Horizon website mentions a 'highly innovative home refilling station', which clearly isn't portable. For now this is no better than carrying a few extra batteries for your phone.

Still, a good first attempt.

felix

felix
16th June, 2010 @ 04:54 am PDT

Great ! and using this cartridge - you can run a hydrogen vehicle, motorcycle etc ?

buddy4095
16th June, 2010 @ 07:05 am PDT

I love your web site, but what is it that you don't understand in "No thanks, don't ask me again"? Most annoying.

Ahmed Kaiksow
16th June, 2010 @ 07:24 am PDT

They claim about 12Wh from each pack, with a maximum power output of 400mA @ 5v

Their site claims a maximum of 2.5W output but 400mA*5v is closer to gizmag's 1.5-2W

So if your device is pulling 400mA to charge/run you'll get between 5-6 hours of power out of a cartridge, which isn't terrible I guess.

It would have been nice to see a higher possible output, maybe 600-1000 mA @ 5v though Toshiba's also had 400mA so maybe thats the best they can get out of it from that form factor currently.

A max 5W draw on a 12Wh battery would be a bit much anyways, but its nice to have that option ;)

Julin
16th June, 2010 @ 09:36 am PDT

Julin, there's no point to having it produce more than 500mA as that's the spec limit for USB, so 400mA is a reasonable amount.

Jonathan Schell
16th June, 2010 @ 02:49 pm PDT

This product uses solid state of hydrogen, which is replaceable or rechargeable using another Horizon's product HydroFILL (solar powered or conventional "Wall-socket").

Now, we don't have the numbers implying how long the solid-state-hydrogen lasts, how much power to refill the solid-state-hydrogen, and so on. Anyhow, it's a smart step, and may lead to something better.

From http://www.horizonfuelcell.com/store/minipak.htm

Product Description

The miniPAK portable electronic device charger is designed to meet the needs of users who want more portable energy in one package, at a lower cost than existing rechargeable or disposable battery-based options.

The MiniPAK portable electronic device charger is a palm-size universal portable power charger and power extender for ANY electronic device requiring up to 3W of power. Devices compatible with the MiniPak include cellphones, but also smartphones, gaming devices, GPS handhelds, small lighting devices and MP3 players. The MiniPAK device integrates a passive air-breathing fuel cell and a "solid-state" hydrogen storage unit. The MiniPak DC power output is 2.5W (5V, 400mA), delivered through standard micro-USB port and a multi-choice cable. The device is supplied with 2 refillable and ready to use solid state hydrogen cartridge.While a cartridge replacement and filling infrastructure develops, Horizon took the extra step to develop a home refueling sytem called "HydroFILL" - sold as a separate accessory for added convenience. The MiniPAK is positioned to address gaps in providing energy "on the go" to power-hungry device users, as well as a low cost energy storage option for emergency and long duration off-grid power users.

Henry Djunaedi
17th June, 2010 @ 12:16 am PDT

I'm still going to hold my breath for a fuel cell that can at least extend the run time of my EV by a factor of 10? Then we really do have some news!

Will, the tink
17th June, 2010 @ 02:59 am PDT

No matter what the technical specs and performance of the miniPak is, this is a good step in the right direction.

I must say thanks to Ballard Power and their original group of investors which included the government of Canada. Ballard is a company started in Vancouver, Canada in 1979 who started the fuel cell industry and cleared the pathway for this and future fuel cells.

In case you are assuming anything - please be advised that I don't work for, have any relationship with, or have any financial interest in Ballard Power or the fuel cell industry. I'm just giving credit where credit is rightfully due.

robo
19th June, 2010 @ 10:59 am PDT

robo, you are obviously Canadian though. Left that out, didja? Ballard has done fuel cell research with partners, has only shared it with those partners though. Is this company partnered with Ballard? I think they'd be self promoting like a Canadian if they were. So Ballard technology did not contribute to this and does not deserve any credit whatsoever. Ballard is not the only company developing fuel cells and was not the first by a long stretch. Why don't we give G.E., NASA, and McDonnell Aircraft recognition and credit for the development and first commercial use of a fuel cell in the US Gemini space program over 50 years ago?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_cell#History

Mark in MI
21st June, 2010 @ 10:54 am PDT

robo: And GM made a fuel cell demonstration vehicle in 1966, 13 years before Ballard existed.

Mark in MI
21st June, 2010 @ 10:57 am PDT

Regarding their points on energy losses...

Yes, the average power plant achieves thermal efficiency of 33%, delivers electricity with average losses of 10%, and the electricity is used to power transformers which suffer from 50% efficiency. One can multiple the efficiency numbers to get a "well-to-device" type efficiency.

For hydrogen, one must remember that the majority of hydrogen (>95%) comes from steam reforming (SR) which uses natural gas and electricity. The SR process is about 65-75% efficient so there is obviously energy savings. What would make the device truly beneficial is if it were powered by passive energy such as solar radiation thereby greatly reducing the need for fossil fuels as a starting material.

Dr. S

wrl_sc_sb
1st July, 2010 @ 11:21 am PDT

CaptNemo said: "the cartridge delivers 12Wh, then later it says the energy equivalent of 1,000 AA batteries. I don't have the exact numbers handy but 12Wh is equivalent to maybe 3 or 4 AA batteries, not 1,000."

That 1,000 batteries figure is probably a lifetime amount, 3 or 4 AA batteries replaced per recharge of the H-fuel cell over its life.

overbyte
11th August, 2010 @ 07:17 am PDT

If you go to the Horizon website, you'll see that their calculation on 1000 batteries is based on life expectancy for the cartridge AND they also provide - at unspecified cost - a home filling station.

PTB
22nd August, 2010 @ 07:52 pm PDT
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