Micro Fuel Cell Industry Report: A New Paradigm of Mobile Energy Storage?

by David Colt, Travis Bradford

This report provides an overview of a potential alternative to traditional battery technologies – the micro fuel cell (MFC). The current status of the MFC landscape is described in terms of: market size and characteristics; technologies and their present status; firms participating, as well as products and prototypes.

From BlackBerries to laptops, and iPods to digital cameras, consumers are increasingly relying on mobile devices for work and play in this new era of technology. This trend corresponds with a large and growing demand for mobile energy storage. To meet this demand, options for consumers are currently limited to single-use and rechargeable batteries.

MFCs offer an alternative to traditional batteries with many significant advantages. Unlike batteries, MFCs do not need an electric outlet. Instead they use swappable cartridges. These cartridges are lighter than batteries and have much higher energy density. As a result, the use-cycle of portable electronics can be extended by hours or days compared to using existing battery technologies. These significant advantages are what fuel cell companies are banking on as they attempt to penetrate the $71 billion world battery market.

There are a number of promising technologies being pursued in the MFC space. Each technology is discussed in the context of target market segments, as well as strengths and weakness compared to other MFCs and traditional battery technologies. Technologies profiled include:

  • Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells
  • Direct Methanol Fuel Cells
  • Reformed Methanol Fuel Cells
  • Formic Acid Fuel Cells
  • Direct Borohydride Fuel Cells
  • Metal Hydride Fuel Cells
  • Zinc Air Fuel Cells
  • Solid Oxide Fuel Cells

The MFC industry is comprised of a diverse group of companies – from international conglomerates to small private firms that make single components. Each market segment is analyzed, with attention paid to pathways to commercialization. Examined end-user markets include:

  • Mobile Recharging Devices
  • Soldier Worn Military Power
  • Laptops
  • Household Recharging Devices
  • Mobile and Smart Phones

The Horizon MiniPak fuel cell

While MFC products may not be on shelves or standard in all products in the short-run, their significant advantages over batteries makes for strong odds of eventual success.

David Colt Energy Analyst, The Prometheus Institute

David Colt is an energy analyst at the Prometheus Institute where his research focuses on early stage renewable and sustainable energy technologies. Before joining the Institute, he worked with a variety of nonprofit and advocacy organizations to advance socially beneficial causes. David graduated from Reed College where he wrote his thesis on cost reduction in the U.S. solar installation market.

Travis Bradford Consultant, President of the Prometheus Institute

Travis Bradford is one of the world’s leading experts on innovative energy technologies, markets, and economics.

image description

Contact Us