Fuel Cell Today defines portable fuel cells as those which are built into, or charge up, products that are designed to be moved. These include military applications (portable soldier power, skid mounted fuel cell generators etc), Auxiliary Power Units (APU) (e.g. for the leisure and trucking industries), portable products (torches, vine trimmers etc), small personal electronics (mp3 players, cameras etc), large personal electronics (laptops, printers, radios etc), education kits and toys.
To power this range of products, portable fuel cells are being developed in a wide range of sizes ranging from less than 5 W up to 500 kW.
Fuel cells are being sold commercially for these applications, APU, small personal electronics, education kits and toys (these we classify as micro fuel cells). Fuel Cell Today defines a micro fuel cell as a unit with a power output of less than 5 W. The difference between small and large personal electronics is that the smaller devices, such as cameras or mobile phones only draw around 3 W of power, whereas a laptop can use up to 25 W, requiring a fuel cell of higher power density.
APU systems comprise the largest MW share of this sector, with very successful deployments of DMFC systems throughout the European leisure sector.
Portable fuel cells typically replace or augment battery technology and exploit either PEM or DMFC technology. PEM fuel cells use direct hydrogen, with no point-of-use emissions, whereas DMFCs emit small quantities of CO2.
The main drivers for fuel cells in portable applications are as follows:
- off-grid operation
- longer run-times compared with batteries
- rapid recharging
- significant weight reduction potential (for soldier-borne military power)
- convenience, reliability, and lower operating costs also apply