Brookstone and Lilliputian Systems have announced that they are bringing to market — after more than a few years of hype — a small consumer fuel cell that runs on butane cartridges. The device consists of two components: inexpensive (we are told) butane cartridges made by cigarette lighter companies, and the fuel cell itself with a USB port for charging any USB powered device: cell phone, Kindle, tablet, etc.
The cost of the fuel cell has not been announced. But a past news story quoted a company official as estimating the price at “between $150 and $200, with the price dropping as production volume increases.” The fuel cartridges will be available in different sizes and cost between $2 and $5, with the larger cartridge recharging a cell phone about 14 times (2 weeks’ worth of recharging for some users).
From the point of view of prepping, this system is very useful. I have a solar recharger for my cell phone, but a full day of sun does not give you a full day of cell phone use. You would have to ration your cell phone usage, if that were your only power source. But with butane cartridges, 26 cartridges at $5 each (if that price is correct) would be only $130 for a year’s worth of cell phone usage. And supposing that the power will not be out continuously for a year (a reasonable assumption), you could buy a dozen or so cartridges and basically not have to worry about recharging your phone in power-outage-type disaster scenarios.
What will the device look like? The early photos, and the photo that is still on the company website, look very futuristic:
The next most recent photos were more muted in design, and seemed to have green indicator lights:
But the most recent photo, released with the Brookstone-Lilliputian announcement, has this design:
I’ll take any of the above, as long as the price stays within the expected range. What’s next for this technology? A way to recharge, or directly run, a laptop off of this type of butane fuel cell would be a big step forward. Computer technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, while battery technology has moved forward at a snail’s pace.
When can we expect these devices to be available at Brookstone? Supposedly this summer. But I should point out that this company, and a few others like it, have been promising this type of consumer-level fuel cell for about the last 10 years. Maybe now is the time.