Technology: Portable Electricity Source Uses Zinc to Produce Energy
CARLSBAD , A company based here announced it has successfully demonstrated the world’s first fuel-cell based “personal power source,” using zinc as an energy source.
Metallic Power Inc., which recently raised more than $6 million from Minnesota Power, Hydro-Quebec Capitech and other investors, plans to begin field trials by the end of the year. Beta testing is projected for 2001, with a product launch in 2002.
The product has a number of applications , from transportation to industrial to home and recreational use, said Susan Connell, spokeswoman for Metallic Power
The company’s device works like a portable generator, providing up to 1 kilowatt-hour of energy to power electrical appliances. However, the energy source is not gasoline or diesel, or even a battery, Connell said.
Instead, the zinc-air fuel cell works by combining zinc and oxygen in the presence of an electrolyte. The chemical reaction produces electricity and zinc oxide , a common substance found in sun block, she said.
The cartridges of zinc oxide can then be brought back to a central recharging station, where electrical current converts the zinc oxide back into zinc, which can be reused indefinitely, Connell said.
The system has a number of advantages over gasoline or diesel generators, batteries and even other fuel cells, typically powered by hydrogen, she said.
Unlike internal combustion engines, Metallic Power’s system has no fumes or emissions, which benefits the environment and makes it safe to use indoors. The machine runs silent, so it can be used at a campsite without disturbing others. Also, it requires no oil changes, so maintenance costs are lower, Connell said.
Compared to batteries, a fuel cell is smaller and lighter, yet provides more power for a longer run time. Cartridges can be swapped out while the machine is still running, and recharging a cartridge takes only a few minutes, unlike the eight-hour recharge a battery requires, she said.
Compared against hydrogen-powered fuel cells, Metallic Power’s zinc-air system uses non-flammable fuel which can be transported safely and easily. The zinc provides twice as much energy as hydrogen, at less cost, Connell said.
“We’re extremely pleased and proud to have made fuel cell history,” said Jeff Colborn, chief executive officer for Metallic Power.
“This moves our product a giant step toward commercialization. We aim to be the first commercially viable fuel cell on the market, with a fuel the consumer can easily recycle at their home or business.”