Entering a key stage in the development of fuel cells: making them small enough to be ubiquitous, what’s the betting these’ll be in everything everywhere within 20 years?
The world’s smallest working fuel cell has been created by US chemical engineers, at just 3 millimetres across. Future versions of the tiny hydrogen-fuelled power pack could replace batteries in portable gadgets.
While batteries are used to do that today, fuel cells are able to store more energy in the same space. Even the most advanced batteries have an energy density an order of magnitude smaller than that of a hydrogen fuel tank.
[from New Scientist, via Bruce Sterling][image from New Scientist and Saeed Moghaddam]
Boeing’s making a series of firsts in aviation, with the latest being a manned flight powered by fuel cells (though batteries helped the plane take off). While it’s unlikely they’ll power commercial airliners, they may see usage in secondary power capacities or they “could power small manned and unmanned air vehicles.”
This seems to be a more likely future for fuel cells in aviation. The main benefits here are lighter weight than batteries (since they’ll consume hydrogen, making the plane lighter) and a chance to keep the combustible fuel far from quickly moving parts like the propeller.
(image from Wikipedia Commons)