Hybrid Super Gadgets and Hydrogen Fuel Cells on the Rise at CES

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The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year was awesome and grandiose as always. As I scoped out the latest in tech madness, I was assaulted by a sensory overload of 3-D screen enablers, perceptive sensors, gaming devices for a lazier and racier audience and phones that promise to be smarter than ever before. The general trend in every category seems to be hybrid super gadgets that perform multiple functions like smartbooks which function as smartphones and netbooks that are also e-book readers, smart TVs that display websites, mobile TVs for cars and phones, and so forth.

It was also a pleasant surprise to see ample choices available in the low energy, environmentally safe category for a change. Things have gotten quite exciting in this arena, which not too long ago used to be pretty limited and drab. Now, thanks to advanced technology, these low cost net books get a longer battery life and more sophisticated, interesting usage options, so serious users can consider buying them for themselves and not just for their kids. The green zone was packed with chemical-free PCs, degradable packaging, LED TVs, and flat panel screens.

Smart grid appliances and home power management devices like smart plugs and wireless thermostats were in full prominence. Panasonic presented a whole set of impressive home energy management tools including hydrogen fuel cells that make electricity from natural gas, heat water and floors, back-up batteries to store solar power, and a home energy management system that can be viewed through TV sets.

Apart from all the well-known players updating their resumes with green causes, there were also a bunch of newer, fresher companies in the business, which are leading the green market through cutting edge technologies and innovative ideas. One such company is Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies who gave us a demo of their latest product, Hydrofill, a home fuel cell for charging small electronics. As we search for new ways to harness renewable energy, there is a lot of interest in hydrogen economy as a way to lessen the load on fossil fuels that has led us to a bunch of problems like pollution, global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. Horizon promises a cleaner technology by extracting the hydrogen in water for producing electricity. It works by pulling out hydrogen from a water tank and storing it in cartridges. A palm sized fuel cell charger called MiniPak, which produces electricity from the stored hydrogen can then be used for charging devices such as smart phones, small digital cameras, GPS units, small lighting devices, MP3 players, and other small devices that depend on USB chargers. No harmful pollutants are released during the process. Horizon says that unlike conventional batteries, these cartridges will carry more energy, are cheaper, and do not contain any environmentally-harmful heavy metals. Here’s why I think the concept is promising:

  1. We are always harping about energy independence as if it is an “all or nothing” kind of step, which could be intimidating to many. There is nothing wrong with taking small steps that are easily implementable by some who even at this day and age think of green as just tree hugging. (Yes, they do exist).
  2. We are living in a gadget crazed society and it’s not going to change anytime soon.  Just take the smart phones alone. The market has literally exploded the past few years. Can you imagine what we can accomplish if we just take the phones alone off the grid?
  3. Using water as the hydrogen source instead of a fossil fuel like oil and natural gas that contains hydrocarbons for the same purpose is way more efficient in my opinion when the end goal is to eliminate greenhouse gases. In technologies using fossil fuel, for example fuel cell powered cars, we are ironically still depending on oil for hydrogen, and they also still end up spitting carbon into the atmosphere. So while lessening the pollution, they are not totally clean, unlike cells that produce hydrogen from water.

Certainly there is big potential there and it would be interesting to see how quickly and effectively we are able to implement the hydrogen economy on a bigger scale and at low cost to make a more effective contribution to a safer environment.

It is also very evident that green itself is not considered just another trend by the electronics industry. It has become an integral and crucial part of the product design — something that is very encouraging.

Dilip Tinnelvelly is VP of Technology and Product Management at ChannelVission Inc., a global business development company specializing in channel sales & marketing services for the information technology industry.

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3 Comments

  1. richard beredero on

    Nice. Caveat: where is the energy coming from to extract the hydrogen from the water? That better be renewable or else we just put another efficiency leak in the chain…and so increase emission.

    • Hydrogen, when produced with fossil fuels, causes more emissions than gasoline production. However, when produced through electrolysis or wind energy, virtually no emissions are released, creating a pollutant free fuel. Coll stuff :P

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