New Industry Products

Horizon Launches Pocket-size Fuel Cell Power Plant for Portable Electronics

June 15, 2010 by Jeff Shepard

Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies announced the launch of a disruptive pocket-size fuel cell power plant targeting portable consumer electronics markets. Named MiniPak, this is the first of several Horizon portable fuel cell power products of varying size and fuel storage technologies to be released commercially over the next months and years.

Starting sales at $99, the company says the MiniPak breaks the cost barrier traditionally associated to most fuel cell devices, making it the first affordable and refillable fuel cell product to enter the consumer portable electronics market. A higher production levels, prices are expected to drop to $29, with extra fuel cartridges sold at prices similar to disposable alkaline batteries, and refilling costs not exceeding a few cents.

The MiniPak addresses the growing power gap common to an increasing number of portable electronics, whereby the design of today’s handheld devices is constrained by the runtimes they are able to achieve. While batteries and efficiencies are improving, faster data networks and more power-draining functionalities such as TV or videoconferencing are accelerating the need for higher energy density fuel cell power supplies. Without changing any of today’s battery-operated devices, Horizon packaged its fuel cell technology into a pocket-size energy accessory that helps increase runtimes and maintain connectivity, while reducing dependence on wall sockets.

The MiniPak "personal power center" delivers 1.5 to 2W of continuous power using a standard USB port, and uses refillable fuel cartridges able to store up to 12Wh of net energy. It is designed to extend the charge of small portable electronics (cell phones, smart phones, MP3/MP4, GPS), but also to free up thousands of creative USB applications normally connected to and powered by PCs. Numerous fuel cell powered USB applications can now be taken "off-grid", including flashlights, wireless speaker systems for smart phones, personal mosquito repellants and many more.

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. 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 sockets in the wall. Added together these losses aren’t small, as in the US there are about 10,000 power plants with an average thermal efficiency of 33%, and transmission losses of around 5-10%.

The MiniPak micro-fuel cell is using 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. The system is simple, compact and futuristic, following Horizon’s award-winning product design legacy.

"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.