Portable fuel cell uses butane to charge gadgets


May 10, 2012

The portable LSI fuel cell (Photo: Lilliputian Systems Inc)

The portable LSI fuel cell (Photo: Lilliputian Systems Inc)

In a deal announced this week, American high-end retailer Brookstone will become the first seller of a portable fuel cell made by MIT spin-off company Lilliputian Systems Inc (LSI). Described as a “plug-less charger,” it will allow users to recharge their electronic devices’ batteries wherever they are – as long as they’ve stocked up on butane.

A CNET report states that the device is about the size of a thick smartphone, and that it uniquely features a solid oxide fuel cell membrane deposited onto a silicon wafer. It generates power using recyclable butane cartridges, which are around the size of a cigarette lighter. According to LSI, one of those cartridges should provide “several weeks of ‘always available’ Personal Power” – this is reportedly five to ten times longer than the run times offered by similarly-sized batteries. CNET adds that the fuel cell should be able to recharge an iPhone 4 a total of 10 to 14 times on one cartridge.

It can be used to charge or power any device that has a USB port, so a variety of different charging cables won’t be required for it to be used with multiple gadgets.

Although pricing has yet to be announced, LSI claims that it will be much less expensive than using conventional spare batteries. Additionally, it has been approved by the UN International Civil Aviation Organization and the U.S. Department of Transportation as an acceptable carry-on luggage item.

LSI and Brookstone have stated that more details will be forthcoming.

Source: Lilliputian Systems Inc via CNET

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

How long would it take to charge a car battery?


@Slowburn How funny!.. I hope it gives you a small peek into the future, though.. Of course, the future of mobility is electric! But with it comes the "cut the wire" mode. And with it I do not need anymore nuclear/coal plants instead I can use whatever method harmless to charge my batteries. Small scale or else...


" Additionally, it has been approved by the UN International Civil Aviation Organization and the U.S. Department of Transportation as an acceptable carry-on luggage item." So I can't take a can of Butane onboard but I can when its in this thing? Please explain....

Brendan Dunphy

I'm a BIG fan of fuel cell's and this one seems like one of the better ones? Now let's scale it up and use it to power electric cars, this is the only way they'll ever be viable. :-)


@Brendan Dunphy - I saw this on another site: "About the size of a deck of cards, the charger will reportedly cost between $100 and $200, with the plastic replacement butane cartridges costing less than $5. The cartridges, which will be manufactured by cigarette lighter makers, will be sealed in such a way that TSA regulations will allow them to be carried on airplanes, according to Lilliputian."


Let me see... hummm cost $100 or $200 USD. Just how many batteries can I buy with that amount of money. I would say anywhere between 12 and 25 batteries, and I use what... 1 or 2 batteries per phone lifetime! Doesn't sound much of a bargain to me. It sound insanely stupid to me. Maybe that is what they are counting on, they believe the media saying that we Americans are stupid and lazy and wont use a calculator to figure out how much this thing will cost to operate and what little benefit it provides.

Skip Michael

@skip Michael: there IS a niche for these things, even at that price. There ARE those of us who go "back of the beyond" and camp and kayak...Something like this would be REAL NICE for a week trip into the wilderness. Also, this may mean that a butane powered laptop is just around the corner. A laptop with a transfinite battery run time (assuming a small battery + a fuel cell or even a hot-fillable fuel cell) would be VERY nice. I'm tired of the cords.

Bryan Paschke

@Skip Michael

I think you might have misunderstood the purpose of this gadget. This is not a battery, but a charger. Instead of hauling bigass external battery packs for tablet pcs and phones, this charger would be very practical for long hikes or travels with no available power sources. And as for the price, I used to have a battery pack for the iPhone 3GS, Mili, and it had about the same energy as the internal 3GS battery but cost roughly 110 dollars(I live in korea, so it might be different in us).

For this price, specs, and size, I think this is competitive in the market for backup chargers and I would seriously consider buying it.

bio-power jeff

@ skip Michael.... sorry to rain on your parade, but its about about "charging" your devices, not replacing their batteries.

Nathan Jeffree

Power output? Voltages? W/lb butane? Exhaust temp/velocity?

Charles Barnard

While batteries loose a charge just sitting on a shelf or in in your glove box the butane tank will still be full years or decades later. You can't always call for help. So How long would it take to put enough of a charge on my cars battery to get a start?

re; Skip Michael

Just as flashlights are devices for storing dead batteries, so are battery powered recharging devices.

This will provide power when you need it.


@Slowburn, perhaps you should look at this article...

Paul Anthony

re; Paul Anthony

It's nice but it costs more than my truck.


Slowburn, I've long said cartridge starters should make a come back for certain things. Larger things, like cars and trucks with dead batteries.


re; VoiceofReason

I would be glad for a crank, or a pneumatic starter with a hand pump.


they should make a version where you can fill it up with a butane canister, now that would be a hell of allot more useful, they should also make a double and triple A version. able to be fill up with a regular can of butane also.

Facebook User

Why not make it so that you can use normal butane lighters (though with the metal heads and sparkwheel holder removed by the user) as the fuel cartridges? Some sort of band that wraps around the lighter when it's inserted into the fuel cell that could be tightened would deal with any size differences (almost all lighters have the same valve parameters so no problemo there). Better enclosure to protect that fragile plastic however. Building on @Facebook User 's idea, you could have a permanent reservoir that could be refilled with a butane canister AS WELL as the lighter holder- meaning you could even refill the lighter as well through it's top valve (good as most lighters aren't refillable- heck, if you kept the sparkwheel and metal head with you this thing doubles as a lighter refiller). Great for when you can't find new lighters but you can find butane canisters. This way you won't have to worry about carrying around lots of refills, you can buy lighters along the way, and it would be a lot cheaper than buying their overpriced cartridges. Though maybe the port for the lighter could also accommodate their refills simply for, I dunno, aesthetics, or reliability (when you can't find lighters/canisters, but you bought along one of their little cartridges just in case of that eventuality) or for being able to bring it on a plane :)

P.S 2 simple momentary buttons (or one programmed button) could be incorporated onto the design for transfer of fuel from reservoir to the lighter/cartridge and vice versa, in case you need that function (though obviously once you made them reach equilibrium, that's it).

Hayden Jones
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles