Rechargeable Fuels Cells Looming in the Future, but are They Safe?
Between all the posts about fluorescent light bulbs, nuclear energy, and decreasing green house gases, I thought it was only appropriate to add to the conglomeration of environmentally-friendly technology. Just like CFLs, a major problem with conventional batteries used in laptops, ipods, cell phones, etc. is that they are difficult to recycle. As a matter of fact, of the 3 billion batteries Americans purchase each year, 179,000 tons of those end up in landfills contributing to the toxic metal waste build-up in this country and around the world.
There may be a light at the end of the tunnel though! Researchers at the technology company Lilliputian have just revealed that they are in the final stages of making portable fuel cell batteries available to the public. These batteries allow a small amount of fuel such as methanol, butane, or formic acid into the system’s chip which produces electricity without any combustion, thus negating the release of any greenhouse gases. Although the product Lilliputian is planning on releasing in the next year or two uses butane and can only be used on devices that charge via USB port such as digital cameras or cell phones, this would open the door for bigger, and more efficient fuel cells in the future. However, there is an economic concern; the company is projecting a $100-150 price tag for their cigarette lighter sized fuel cell system.
Although I’m all about saving the environment by trying my best to recycle paper and soda cans, I’m a little concerned about the presence of butane, methanol, and formic acid present in fuel cells. Because methanol and butane are flammable and formic acid is corrosive, it took research companies a while to convince the U.S. Department of Transportation and the International Civil Aviation Organization to allow the transport and use of the fuel cells on board aircraft. I completely agree that fuel cells should eventually replace conventional batteries so our electronics not only last longer but drastically decrease the magnitude of battery waste, but is it worth the risk of people carrying around flammable and corrosive materials from day to day?