Remember last summer when laptop batteries were exploding left and right causing the airline industry to place a ban on powering your precious laptop when in the air? While the fault was with poorly manufactured lithium-ion batteries, fuel cells — a new portable power source using actual fuel — has caused those Nervous Nellies to denounce the technology as dangerous. As is usually the case, the Luddites are once again misinformed, causing this awesome technology to be delayed longer than it needs to be. I'll dismiss this ridiculous claim and point out the environmental and energy benefits of fuel cells after the jump.
Lithium-ion batteries have come a long way from where they once were. These days my laptop can get through a three-hour flight without quitting while my last one used to crap out after 30 minutes. But over the next year, after constant recharging, that battery is going to lose its ability to hold a charge to the point where I can't go from one room to another without shutting down. And don't get me started on my waning cell-phone battery. No sooner do I place a call for Chinese take-out than my phone shuts down because it can't power itself longer than two minutes. In short, lithium-ion batteries suck! I can't even throw old ones into a landfill due to all the hazardous materials they're made from.
Even more impressive is the use Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells in armored vehicles. These hydrogen-based systems can power the entire electrical needs of high-tech assault vehicles without the need of wasting precious diesel. If fuel cells can be used in war zones without fear of leaks or explosions, then carrying a small cell in your pocket shouldn't pose much of a risk. The last time I looked, I wasn't dodging any bullets so the chance of a fuel cell getting pierced in my pocket is nil. Apparently the airline industry agrees as it's considering allowing the technology to be used while in flight.
The good news is more companies are looking at fuel cells to power gear used by road warriors, and it is expected by this time next year, we'll see affordable solutions to an ever-growing problem of desperately looking for a power outlet before we lose power to our portable devices. Once fuel cells reach mass deployment, that price is going to plummet faster than Sony's stock when it was revealed it was the one behind the faulty exploding lithium-ion battery scare last summer.
Fuel cells have been in development since the early 19th century and to date, there have been no documented instances of fuel cells exploding. Number of lithium-ion batteries recalled: 7 million. Number of fuel cells recalled: 0. The technology is safe, and it should be put into portables as soon as possible. My cell phone needs it!