November 24, 2002
BASF Hydrogen Storage Nanocubes

BASF is going after the future market for fuel cells as a way to power portable electronic devices. The hope is that a fuel cell combined with a storage device would yield a higher power to weight ratio than existing rechargeable batteries and hence longer battery life.

The hydrogen in the cartridge would be subject to 10 times atmospheric pressure-- about the same level as in a butane cigarette lighter, BASF says. The nanocubes provide controlled release of the hydrogen to the fuel cell, the company says. The hydrogen-- fed fuel cells could power portable devices for more than 10 hours, it adds.

However, as a portable power source the hydrogen fuel cells face a competitor in the form of liquid powered fuel cells. There are companies bringing out prototype liquid fuel cells for portable electric power sources. A company called Smart Fuel Cell argues that methanol fuel cells will be more convenient since recharging will be easier.

In April 2002 SFC had presented the first prototype power supply for mobile office applications at the Hanover Fair. Manfred Stefener, founder and CEO of Smart Fuel Cell: "So far we have miniaturised our products every six months by more than 50 %. The recent progress demonstrated now is based upon an entirely new DMFC stack design. Furthermore, we have made every system component smaller in close collaboration with our supplier network."

SFC has furthermore built up the first infrastructure for fuel cartridges. Stefener said, "It is essential that cartridges are widely available for the consumers, for example at filling stations and supermarkets. This is a lot easier to establish for methanol cartridges than for hydrogen-based systems, and we have already realized the complete logistics chain of the cartridges for our first series product."

Update: Another interesting article on recent fuel cell advances can be found here.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2002 November 24 01:59 PM  Energy Tech

Philip Shropshire said at November 25, 2002 3:53 PM:

What's your take on Rifkin's "Hydrogen Age"? I've actually seen him speak several times but as you can imagine there's a lot that I don't agree with...! Even though I certainly think Biotech needs its own Ralph Nader...What's your take? Have you read it or the reviews?

Randall Parker said at November 25, 2002 6:23 PM:

Philip, I haven't read Jeremy Rifkin. What he used to write years ago was totally nuts (I vaguely recall some fear of his where he saw the 2nd law of thermodynamics as an argument against having an industrial society). He seemed to become less nutty as the years passed but I decided he didn't have anything to really teach me and there are so many others to read who do.

As for the idea of a "Hydrogen Age": The big advantage of hydrogen is that you burn it and out comes water. No carbon or sulfur. That's great. I think fuel cells and hydrogen storage methods are going to advance far enough to make hydrogen a viable fuel form. A lot of companies are pouring a lot of money into fuel cells. Fuel cells are going to happen.

But its obvious that ways to generate energy are what are most important. You can't store it or move it if you don't have it to store or move in the first place. If non-fossil fuel energy sources can be made to be cheaper than fossil fuel energy sources then people will find way to store and move the energy so generated.

I think photovoltaics will turn out to be the most important energy source in about 3 or 4 decades. Wind will have its place too since in areas closer to the poles the wind still blows during winters that have short periods of weak daylight. Also, genetically engineered organisms that generate hydrogen under sunlight will probably see a lot of use. But photovoltaics have no moving parts and don't need to be fed. PV seems like a wonderfully low maintenance way to go once thin film photovoltaics become cost effective. So they seem like they will become the most important source of energy in the temperate zones where most human beings live.

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