It’s kind of amazing how many of us walk around with portable, internet-connected computers in our pockets. But there’s one major problem with modern smartphones: They get horrible battery life.

Up until a few years ago I carried around a tiny Nokia candybar-shaped phone that made calls and did little else. I only had to charge it every few days. My Google Nexus One, on the other hand, is lucky if it can get through a workday on a charge.

Massachusetts-based Lilliputian Systems Inc has a solution (and a rather clever name, if you ask me): a pocket-sized fuel cell which holds enough power to fully charge an iPhone about 10-14 times.

Lilliputian Systems fuel cell charger

Lilliputian Systems is partnering with retailer Brookstone to sell the portable charger in stores later this year. It will have the Brookstone name on it, like many of the products which the company sells, but does not necessarily produce in-house.

The portable charger will work with most devices that can be charged via a USB cable. That includes mobile phones, digital media players, cameras, and other devices.

There are already a number of chargers on the market which let you charge mobile devices with standard batteries. What sets this charger apart is the use of a recyclable fuel cell cartridge.

It lasts longer than single-use AA batteries and Lilliputian Systems says its system will be cheaper than buying a spare battery for your phone. Although final pricing for the charger hasn’t been disclosed yet, CNET reports that the plastic cartridges will hold butane and cost a few dollars.

The cartridges are also approved for carry-on use on airplanes, which is a good thing because the only place I ever see Brookstone stores is at airports. Oh yeah, and I guess it also means your phone won’t die while you’re playing games or watching videos on that next international flight.

While the charger looks like an interesting alternative to existing solutions, the thing that I’m most impressed with is that someone is finally bringing a practical, affordable fuel cell to market in the US. Fuel cell technology has been under development for years, but you can’t exactly pick them up at the drug store next to the AA and 9-volt batteries yet.

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4 replies on “Pocket-sized fuel cell can power a smartphone for weeks”

  1. I wonder if it has the same problem as other fuel cell systems, that once the reaction is started it can’t be stopped.

    1. Chemical reactions are hard to just turn on and off as they’ll continue as long as the reacting chemicals are in contact and low cost, along with highest efficiency, designs for fuel cells don’t usually allow for easy separation of those elements.

      Though, since this one is re-fuel-able, you could opt to only put as much fuel as you think you’ll need at a time. Unlike other designs that require you to replace the whole fuel cartridge and use it all each time.

      Mind that they’re also still working on getting better power output on these small fuel cells. So this won’t power much more than what your cellphone would need to charge.

      They’ve made some significant advances in the last few years but they still have a way to go before it’s practical enough for wider adoption.

    2. They could simply feed only as much fuel as needed using electronics.

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