Brookstone will soon start selling a portable fuel cell USB charger from Lilliputian Systems, which could provide two weeks of smartphone charging in your pocket. Brookstone will be the first retailer to carry the portable USB power source and it will be sold under the Brookstone brand. The size of the fuel cell device is about as thick as a smartphone. It uses lighter fluid-filled cartridges and they are about the same size as a cigarette lighter.
Lilliputian Systems is a 10 year old spin off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Several other fuel cell companies have developed portable power systems, but none have been as successful. The fuel cell will charge any device that has a USB cable.
Pricing is not yet known for the Brookstone fuel cell itself, but we do know that the cartridges (made of plastic and hold butane) will cost a few dollars. People will be able to buy refills and fuel cells online or through Brookstone catalogs. When the fuel cartridges are empty, they can be recycled through municipal recycling programs.
Lilliputian believes that the first customers will be early technology adopters, travelers, college students, and teenagers. “Anyone who wants to be liberated from sticking a phone into a wall outlet,” said Mouli Ramani, VP of business development at Lilliputian Systems. Lilliputian is the first fuel cell system to depot a solid oxide fuel cell membrane onto a silicon wafer.
“The problem of all the other (previous) devices, which usually used methanol or sodium borohydride, is that when they actually built the product, it was not any better than carrying a lithium ion battery around,” he added.
Lilliputian’s fuel cell will be able to charge an iPhone 4 between 10 and 14 times with one cartridge. The cartridges will be made by cigarette light makers and can be carried on airplanes. Lilliputian is aiming to sell the device and cartridges through other retail stores.