According to plan, portable electronic devices powered by a hybrid fuel cell/battery, dubbed "Formira," should begin working by 2007 in places where the electrical grid has yet to reach. Its developer, Tekion Inc., is applying the new power source to "off the grid" products like sat phones, according to Malcolm Man, director of programs and strategic planning. The Formira fuel cell uses formic acid instead of the usual methane as an H2 agent chiefly because of its higher power density, Man explains. The market pool for portable power is deepening as batteries fail to keep up with the growing power needs of portable technologies, he adds.
Tekion will use a connector developed by the Colder Products Co. for attaching fuel cartridges to its proton exchange membrane, or PEM, fuel cell. The connector had to be small, spill-proof, and resistant to formic acid, says Patrick Williams, marketing and planning manager at Colder.
Size represented the biggest challenge in the connector's development, Williams says, mainly because the company hadn't made a non-spill connector even close to the desired range before. "It's development required a new approach," he adds.
Engineers at Colder decided a needle through a septum—like that used for inflating basketballs—provided the right kind of model. It would have to be durable though, and capable of many repeated uses. The company's other connectors rely on o-rings and springs to seal and set.
Colder engineers designed a connector that's about 0.25 inch in diameter by 1 inch long—nearly three times tinier than the company's next smallest connector.
|A connector will help make friendly fuel cells friendlier as they begin powering portable electronics.
Another challenge—one that's still being investigated in soak tests—was finding materials suitable for use with formic acid. Titanium, gold, and polycarbonate resist an acid attack best, according to Williams.
In operation, the fuel cell will charge a battery which will deliver power to the portable device. A user will swap out formic acid-filled cartridges as they're depleted without interrupting the operation of the device.
The formic acid fuel cell is expected to use cheaper catalysts and fewer components while operating at lower temperatures than a typical methanol fuel cell.