The Gadget Guy: Fuel Cells, Mobile Chargers and Photography

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first edition of the Gadget Guy. Douglas Mechaber loves unusual tech stuff and loves writing about it. You won’t read about typically boring me-too products here. To prove the point, Doug starts with one of the first commercially available consumer level fuel cells.

How cool would it be to power your mobile phone, PDA or other low powered device with a fuel cell? Using fuel cell technology from their Israeli affiliate, More Energy, Medis offers a 1-watt, 3.8 -5.4 V affordable, disposable fuel cell capable of recharging most mobile phones or other MP3 players. Proving that we live in a global village, Medis production takes place in Ireland, via an agreement with Celestica. Previous fuel cells were either not "department store" consumer friendly, or very expensive, ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 in price. For example, Jadoo’s products, which use hydrogen fuel cells, are much more expensive, though they provide considerably more power than the Medis device.

The Medis pack includes some accessories, and a bag and label to recycle it.

When would you use a fuel cell? The Jadoo series is designed for military use, remote sites, camping or extended emergencies. The inexpensive Medis can be used to power or recharge small devices in similar circumstances - when camping, during power outages or when you forget to recharge before a trip. In California, for example, you face rolling blackouts, fires damaging transmission lines, earthquakes and weather-related power outages at least a few times per year. Though other geographic areas may face different challenges, do you really ever want to be without your mobile phone in a disaster?

To activate the fuel cell, you simply remove the green strip, and with some pressure, collapse the box evenly until both the top and bottom click. This first-generation fuel cell has a listed 20-Watt hour total capacity, and will provide that power up to three months once activated. A charge of 20 Watt hours is equivalent to approximately 10 "standard" cell phone charges of three hours each. Theoretically, shelf life, before activation, should be unlimited, but Medis has only tested a shelf life of 18 months. Part of the reason for not claiming a longer shelf life is that the membrane that separates components before activation may not be completely impermeable.

The activated and un-activated Medis. Note the green activation strip and WhiBal card for size reference.