Peep! “Please switch off. Power supply almost exhausted.” Every day millions of mobile phone, palmtop, notebook, portable CD player and camcorder users are driven to fury by this warning. Without a power source, this wonderful new wealth of modern electronics is of no use at all. Yet the mobile and wireless trend still surges on. Electronic devices can only be portable if they maintain their own, self-sufficient power source. Disposable or rechargeable batteries are expensive, harmful to the environment and usually do not last long enough. Researchers are thus looking for ever greater urgency for alternatives.
The Fraunhofer-Initiative “Miniature fuel cells” is working on innovative energy concepts for portable electronic devices. Its new means of mobile power supply will be on show at the Hanover fair. Fraunhofer researchers will operate a camcorder using the new fuel cells to illustrate their effectiveness in the low-power segment. “Our exhibit is a world first, since for the first time we will be demonstrating a fully operational and integrated fuel cell system,” emphasizes Dr Christopher Hebling of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE. A miniature fuel cell with a performance capability of 10W at 8V supplies enough power to run a camcorder. The miniature fuel cell is barely larger than a matchbox and consists of 16 bipolar plates stacked and glued on top of one another. A metal hydride reservoir, which can be easily replaced, serves as a tank for the hydrogen. The researchers have paid particular attention to cost-effective subsequent series production.
Also on display will be a fully self-sufficient palmtop, fitted by the ISE with high-performance solar cells. It requires neither fuel, nor battery nor network connection. It draws its energy from the sun. Indeed, even artificial light provides adequate energy to operate the palmtop. Concepts are currently under development for a fuel cell beamer and a universal power pack for portable power supply using fuel cells and solar cells – mobile power stations enabling users of electronic devices to dispense with any power cables.