The technology that lets you charge your phone with a puddle of water

There are few among us who can truthfully say that they've never faced a dead phone battery – often just at the point when it's most needed. Many of us struggle to get through a full day without recharging the battery in our phones, especially when we use our handsets to listen to music, play games and even watch movies on the go. 

For most of us, though, this is a relatively minor inconvenience. But in some parts of the world – particularly emerging markets – it's a much greater problem, especially in those regions where electricity infrastructure is fragmented or unreliable. In such parts of the world, where the mobile phone is becoming more commonplace (and increasingly becoming a lifeline for communities, and a necessity for driving local commerce) it's a problem that needs to be solved. 

This is why research, such as that being carried out by the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, is so crucial, with wide-ranging benefits not just for those in less-developed markets, but also for the wider world. Researchers at the institute have created the world's first water-activated charger, capable of topping up the battery on a phone. 

Whether freshwater or saltwater, it doesn't need to be completely clean – it can, literally, be collected from a puddle. As The Times of India reports, the MyFC PowerTrekk charger uses micro fuel cell technology, and when the water is poured onto a metal disc inside the unit, hydrogen gas is released which combines with oxygen in the air to convert chemical energy into electrical energy. The unit is connected to a device via a microUSB port to charge it up. 

Anders Lundblad, researcher at the Institute and founder of MyFC, believes the device, and the underlying technology, is an important step towards building leaner and more efficient fuel cells for larger devices such as tablets and notebooks. "The launch of our charger is a strategic move to gain wide acceptance of fuel cells through society," he told The Times. "Our chargers may be considered expensive now, but in the longer term, as they reach a mass market, they would go down in price."

Price is indeed a problem, for now. As TechRadar Australia noted in its review of the PowerTrekk, the charger itself will cost $229 USD, and you'll need to purchase disposable "pucks" that contain the sodium silicide – which reacts with the water to produce acqueous sodium silicate and the hydrogen gas needed for the second part of the chemical reaction, which turns the hydrogen back into water and releases the energy which ultimately charges the device. $12 USD will buy you three pucks, and each can only be used once, although you should be able to fully charge a device twice through the use of each puck. 

So, for the time being, the PowerTrekk will be an expensive indulgence, although that hasn't stopped MyFC from signing up distributors in eleven countries around the world. But while it will undoubtedly be a niche offering at first, the potential for this technology is what makes it so exciting, and as it matures - and, crucially, as it becomes cheaper over time – its appeal and value in both emerging and developed markets will surely become much greater. 

Source: The Times of India | Image via TechRadar Australia

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13 Comments

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W32.Backdoor.KillAV.E said,
Fuel Cells... been hearing about these for so many years. And they've still gone nowhere.

We really need some better battery tech.

Absolutely.

There is a lot of battery tech out there that's much more advanced than what you have, e.g. vanadium battery, you just can't afford it.

^ This. That's what it comes down to. Price and portability. Fuel cells have been in use for quite some time but they don't come cheap and are massive. And no this is not a fuel cell, not really. Because electrolysis in fuel cell generates heat as well as electricity on its own without the need for converting hydrogen back into water. And that reaction is highly exothermic. So much that its used to provide thrust in rockets.

and you'll need to purchase disposable "pucks" that contain the sodium silicide

So basically, the water is only PART of the solution, and there's still the need for a consumable. Hardly a leap forward for the consumer!

wouldn't charging with solar be easier and cheaper? I know that you're limited to charing during the day, but this has it's own limits too: water is hard to fine in some places, I understand.

Amazon has pretty good chargers starting at $25 that work fine, unless they don't have the sun in emerging markets, it's a better choice. That said, if they can get the efficiency WAY up and the price way down, could serve some needs.

Jose_49 said,
Amazing! Not bad for long water trips... or if you get lost on a forsaken island... Wilson!!!

Yeah then you lose all your pucks and your screwed!

n_K said,
Sodium silicide, and how much of that goes back into the water you get it from and contaminates it?
Depends on how the puck is disposed of but, for the 'emerging markets' that this is marketed for, it would probably end up in the water supply at some point.