Fuel cell backers have been promoting their technology as the “next big thing” for years now, but despite constant reassurance that commercial implementations are just around the corner, fuel cells remain hard to find in practice. Positive statements from laptop manufacturers like NEC, IBM, and Toshiba routinely suggest that fuel cell tech will be available within 12 months, but such predictions have generally been (to put it politely) optimistic. The dream of a ten hour laptop has been a dream deferred.
Take heart, road warriors, because the situation seems to be changing. Interest in fuel cells is growing, increasingly advanced prototypes are being showcased, and the airline industry looks ready to make way for fuel cells in passenger cabins. Don’t start stocking up on the methanol just yet, though; despite the promise they have always shown, portable fuel cells still have some drawbacks that will need to be over come before widespread adoption is possible.
Ten hours of power? Good. Weight equivalent to a liter of water? Not so good. The selling point of fuel cells is portable power, after all, and current models are still bulky and heavy. In addition to its heft, the current model has some noise problems as well, which the BBC describes as “small but constant whirring noises and the persistent sounds of tiny clicks made by the pump and valves.” If MacBook Pro owners could get upset about a faint whine from their machines, they probably won’t be thrilled about a device that whirrs and clicks, too.
This is a typical example of a new technology that’s showing downsides in its first generation. But this is how it always goes with new technology ofcourse. The fuel cells of a few years from now will not suffer from so many downsides, so we can all look forward to a better and cheaper way of powering our devices.
Also see How do you make a fuel cell? Print it.