May 5, 2008 We’ve been writing about the coming of micro fuel cell technology to replace current lithium ion and similar rechargeable battery systems in hand-held electronic devices for a long time now, with prototype devices from Toshiba and MTI Micro being the most prevalent. While it’s been a long time in coming to market, fuel cell technology will almost certainly eventually prevail, so the showing of an embedded fuel cell prototype handheld GPS device at the 10th Annual International Small Fuel Cells Conference on the weekend is significant.
MTI Micro’s Mobion® power packs are based on direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) technology and is being aggressively developed for consumer and military markets as it will increase run time (time until a recharge is needed) between two to ten times over the status quo of existing battery technologies. As importantly, for the first time wireless and other electronic hand held devices will be "truly wireless", capable of going anywhere, anytime with no need to plug in or wait for a recharge to complete.
MTI Micro claims its new Mobion GPS prototype provides three times as much energy as GPS devices powered by four disposable AA batteries. On a model with a large, full-color screen, the company says its fuel cell design generates up to 60 hours of continuous power and provides weeks instead of days of typical usage.
The new Mobion powered GPS prototype includes a USB interface, allowing the prototype to also be used as an independent energy source for a variety of purposes, including for recharging mobile phones, digital cameras, portable media players and other handheld electronic devices. The Mobion powered GPS prototype can be immediately recharged by refilling it with methanol.
“MTI Micro is exploring the integration of our Mobion platform with GPS devices as part of our strategy to bring micro fuel cell technology to a wide range of portable consumer electronic device market segments,” said Peng Lim, President and CEO of MTI.
“Battery life is a key issue with handheld GPS devices, especially as manufacturers add advanced energy-hungry features to new models, such as larger full color screens. Our Mobion powered GPS prototype will provide handheld GPS users such as hikers and campers, travelers, boaters, pilots and other sports enthusiasts the peace of mind of much longer usage time and will help them do away with the expense, bulk and environmental unfriendliness of conventional batteries.”
MTI Micro’s new GPS fuel cell prototype is the second prototype unveiled by the company this year – in February, it showed a Mobion-powered camera-grip attachment for digital SLR cameras designed to provide twice as much energy as existing battery pack camera-grips of the same size. Both were on display at the 10th Annual International Small Fuel Cells Conference, as well as its Mobion external power charger prototypes and its Mobion-powered smartphone concept model.
One other significant enabling factor in the commercialization of methanol fuel cell cartridges got ticked off recently when the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a ruling that will permit passengers and crew to carry methanol fuel cell cartridges and fuel cell systems designed for portable electronic devices on board airplanes in carry-on baggage. The effective date of the ruling is October 1, 2008, although voluntary compliance with the ruling may commence as early as May 30, 2008.
MTI’s CEO Peng Lim commented on the new ruling as follows: "This is an important step in the commercialization process of our Mobion off-the-grid portable power solutions. We intend to commercialize our products in 2009 in accordance with the guidelines in the Department of Transportation ruling. This ruling supports our timeline for commercialization and validates our longstanding choice of methanol as a fuel."