One of the coolest gadgets at MWC – a portable fuel cell

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Myfc from Mike Butcher on Vimeo.

One of the more interesting objects on display at Mobile World Congress this year was one produced by a Swedish company, enabling people in developing countries to charge their mobile phone. But no, this was not a car battery or an electrical generator on a bicycle. This was a small portable fuel cell.

Think about it. Mobile base stations can often now reach far into the countryside, even in some previously remote places in Africa. But actually keeping the phone charged is an issue.

myFC is a small hydrogen fuel cell power source which will still work under extreme environmental conditions. The exterior plastic housing appears to be be very durable and it has no moving parts.

How does it work? The fuel cell silently converts hydrogen into electricity via its “Proton Exchange Membrane”. The only by-product from the fuel cell is a little water vapor. To operate, hydrogen is drawn from a small packet of energised aluminium powder, water added and voila, power comes out. In theory you could stockpile these packets of powder and just use them as needed (though of course there remains the issue of how much they’d cost and how affordable they’d be for people in developing countries).

mFC comes in three different forms. Two for outdoor use and one prototype which could be attached to the back of a laptop screen.

I was pretty impressed. Check out the video above.

  • Mat Morrison

    Cool — but can I take it on a plane?

    • Born

      The device you can bring with you – bear in mind! at no airplane you are not allowed to charge phones etc. , doesn’t matter how you do it – not allowed, full stop.
      Fuel needs to be certified, today cap. 50% of our vendors are, we will make sure it is when the chargers are ready to fly/ Westerholm

      • Gordon

        rubbish I’ve been on many flights and used emergency chargers whilst in flight for mobile phone,ipod and iphone….and if you travel 1st class and not cargo some airlines even provide a power point for you to plug in and jackup….

      • Gordon

        rubbish I’ve been on many flights and used emergency chargers whilst in flight for mobile phone,ipod and iphone, DS….and if you travel 1st class and not cargo some airlines even provide a power point for you to plug in and jackup….

  • Terence Eden

    How much does the powder cost?
    How much does the hydrogen cost?
    Where do you buy the powder and hydrogen from?
    How long do they last?

    Why not solar or kinetic power if you want to recharge your phone on the go

    • Born

      Powder will be very inexpensive and to get the H2 you just por water in to it. When we start to ship it – you will purchase the fuel at the same retailer as you bought the charger, longer term – many different retailers/web etc.

  • OoTheNigerian

    Mike, you say

    “..enabling people in developing countries to charge their mobile phone.”

    “…Think about it. Mobile base stations can often now reach far into the countryside, even in some previously remote places in Africa.”

    I want to know, does Myfc work in the remote areas of the ‘developed’ countries?.

    Does it have to be ‘helping Africa’ for it to be seen as a worthy innovation?.

    • Mike Butcher

      You can use it anywhere obviously but it’s being pitched as one of the many solutions for developing countries, especially as you can use any quality of water, it doesn’t have to be pure filtrated water. So even river water etc

  • Myatu

    I love the idea of a portable fuel cell (and there are some others out there, mainly for powering nano-scale things).

    But hold your horses on stockpiling packets of energized aluminum powder; in that form its rather toxic, and to answer @Mat, no you wouldn’t be able to carry that on a flight: aluminum powder is quite flammable (and with another oxidizing substance, it becomes explosive – they use it quite a bit in fireworks).

    • ignandy

      Actually that the first thing come into my mind when I read portable fuel cell. This could be very deathly if control by some people.

      I prefer motion/kinetic or solar tech for mobile phone

    • Gordon

      Explosives on planes highly flamable Hmmm do you mean paper or binary explosives? I believe that most people do not want to blow themselves up or get burnt..

      Terrorists have not won if we can still batts in the space shuttle or in subs. Knee JERKS yes but the only thing that SELLS today is FEAR.

      Now please remove all flammable clothing before your flight, and have a safe journey.

  • Portable fuel cell to recharge your cell? Sure, why not | Products & Tech News

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  • Braeden

    Now you can have a fuel cell for your car as well as home. If you don’t know yet, there is a fuel cell designed to power your entire home or office that can be less expensive than solar power and runs from your natural gas line.

    Reduce your cost of utilities by 50% with a simple installation.

    Finance it with AB811. Out of pocket expense – ZERO. Electricity Bill – ZERO. Check out more details at

  • Icesnake

    Inside of a year, the DHS will ban this – and any LiON batteries, probably – from flights over US air space.

    Face it, civilian air transport is dead. The terrorists won, thanks to the knee-jerk idiots in the Bush administration who established the American SS.

    • MER

      I know that Bush is the great evil. We all learned that from Al Gore.

      Get over it.

      Hydrogen fuel cells reek of the Hindenburg. Hydrogen is restricted in transport and not a viable fuel source for the same reason that the Hindenburg exploded.

      It is a volatile fuel.

      It’s like the atom.

      Wouldn’t want a nuclear reactor in your fuel tank.

      But Hydrogen is okay?

      There is not Magic / Safe Fuel. Sorry….

      So WTF are you proposing.

      Just want to know.

      Without you bitching about who is holding it back.

      Just Scientific fact about how it will help the world.

      That’s all.

      • VidiVici

        Hydrogen is not as dangerous as you make it sound…

        The Hindenburg tragedy (over 70 years ago btw) is as bad an example as one could use. Hydrogen was then used for it’s lighter than air properties and not as fuel. It was hence stored in a big balloon rather than a solid tank.

        Now comparing fuel-cells with nuclear reactors is just absurd. It’s like banning stoves at home because steel furnaces are dangerous!

        Finally calling something scientific fact does not make it so. An experiment tells a lot more!

        Ho and by the way you have to realize that this thing will also be full of water so I think there is so little hydrogen in gaseous form that you would barely hear a pop in the worst case scenario.

  • Thomas

    SFC fuel cells are on direct methanol method.

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  • Hindenburg

    Why can’t people ever have a conversation about hydrogen without mentioning the darn Hindenburg?

    Fact 1) The Hindenburg’s skin had nothing to do with the disaster.

    Fact 2) The Hindenburg burned because it was filled with hydrogen.

    Fact 3) FACT 2 DOESN’T MATTER!!

    Just because hydrogen is a bad lifting gas for dirigibles has ZERO to do with whether it is good as a fuel, either by itself or in fuel cells. That’s like saying that because arsenic is a bad food additive, it must also be a bad rat poison. There are many things that are terrible for one purpose and wonderful for another. Gasoline is a terrible breakfast beverage, and an awful shampoo, and a lousy floor polish… and it burns like crazy… but we use it for fuel all the time. What is this crazy obsession with the Hindenburg?

  • One of the coolest gadgets at MWC – A Portable Fuel Cell | Go Green Stay Green | Go Green Stay Green

    […] TechCrunch by Mike […]

  • Oshio

    What happens to the fuel cells after they’re spent?

  • Dave K.

    This thing should have been solar or wind up powered, with electrolysis… counting on toxic aluminum powder for a hydrogen source is just silly.

  • shepdaddy

    This reminds me of the disposable razor. The razor is cheap to buy but the blades are not. You need a razor to shave, but you need blades to operate the razor. The razors become dull and you need to throw them out and buy more. It reeks of a recurring revenue model and only the manufacturer wins. Solar is definitely a better way to go.


    There is obviously a great future ahead for this sort of thing!

  • Cool Men Gear

    The lay-out of the web site just isn’t that well-fitted on the article.

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