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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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