Watch a PEM Fuel Cell Power Up MP3 Player (Video)

pem charging image

Image via YouTube screen grab

Element14 has a video showing a PEM fuel cell powering an MP3 player. But, exactly what is PEM technology, how does it work, and why do we care if it powers a small electronic device?

From element14, "This video is of a Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) Hydrogen Fuel Cell (green color) powering a MP3 player. A PEM water electrolyser is shown on the background (blue device) to generate pure hydrogen and oxygen gases on demand from distilled water."

We've seen a few companies create fuel cells for handheld devices, with Panasonic bringing one out as far back as 2006 (ancient history in the tech industry) and more recently Medis bringing out their PowerPack. But how exactly does a PEM fuel cell work? Here is a handy video explaining it:

While in development since the 1960s, and touted as one of the most promising technologies for fuel cell-powered vehicles, we haven't seen fuel cells take off as a popular way to power small electronics. Usually, the alternative energy chargers that get the attention are solar powered. It helps that the fuel source for solar chargers is free, and no refills of fuel are needed -- just toss it in a bright window.

As a commenter on Make, which also posted this video, states, "It's worth noting every single time this comes up that the energy required for this step ("A PEM water electrolyser is show on the background (blue device) to generate pure hydrogen and oxygen gases on demand from distilled water.) is necessarily always higher than the energy released in the fuel cell. That is: This is not a perpetual energy machine, and this is not a -source- of power. It's a more convenient way of consuming it that allows different types of energy storage."

The PEM fuel cell used here is from H2*Sunlight, which offers training in how hydrogen fuel cells work. The fuel cell used in the video is one of the products they make to help with that training. For more exploration into how fuel cells work, check out the cool kits from Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies.

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