A highlight of yesterday’s Toshiba Product Showcase was the chance to get some hands on time with the company’s fuel cell charger. This was launched in Japan at the tail end of last year, but there is still no confirmation on whether we’ll see a UK launch any time soon, if at all. There has been so much talk about fuel cell technology over the years that it was refreshing to get my hands on a finished product that actually worked.
The basic premise of this device is that it can charge up your mobile kit while you’re out and about, much like the plethora of recharging batteries that have been around for donkeys’ years. The big difference though, is that you still have to remember to charge those backup batteries, whereas Toshiba’s fuel cell charger just needs to be topped up with juice and it’s ready to go.
The fuel cell charger looks something like a small radiator or intercooler from a car. On the right hand side is a level gauge, which shows how much fuel is inside. The fuel in question is methanol, and Toshiba was keen to point out that it’s fully approved for travel on aeroplanes. Personally I’m not convinced that airport security will let you through the gate carrying a small bottle full of fuel, but I’ll give Toshiba the benefit of the doubt since I haven’t tried it.
The fuel is literally squeezed into a port on the bottom of the device, and once filled up it’s ready to charge pretty much anything you care to connect. The charger should be compatible with anything that would normally charge over USB, which thankfully, is pretty much everything these days. Unfortunately the units I saw didn’t have a full size USB port, so you’ll have to use an adapter in order to plug your existing cables into the charger.
Realistically this type of device will appeal to the real road warrior, who is constantly on the move and never wants to be caught short without power. The ability to simply create power whenever you need it is undoubtedly impressive, but carrying the charger and a supply of fuel everywhere you go isn’t the most convenient or elegant solution.
As a proof of concept though, the fuel cell charger makes a strong statement. Will we be seeing mobile devices with this technology built in one day? Your phone or notebook runs out of juice and you simply pump some fuel into it and away you go! Now that could herald a new era in mobile technology.