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Micro fuel-cells: an innovative solution for mobile devices

Micro Fuel Cell

Published on 7 May 2019

Since the early 2000s Liten has been developing a micro fuel-cell combining low-temperature PEMFC (proton exchange membrane fuel cell) technology and hydrogen-based energy storage. The goal is to create an efficient, low-cost alternative to lithium-ion batteries, a growing need on the digital and mobile equipment markets.

Liten began developing its first micro fuel-cell on silicon wafers, in R&D carried out with STMicroelectronics. The process turned out to be cost-prohibitive, and the focus of the research was shifted to alternative, lower-cost materials. Liten then partnered with BIC and Angstrom Power on a fuel-cell core and hydrogen cartridge system. The partners developed an innovative fuel-cell core in which the cells are arranged on a planar surface, making the fuel cells easier to integrate into flat and curved objects like smartphone cases.

Work on the hydrogen-based storage component continued in parallel. Liten contributed its knowledge of hydrogen production and storage chemistry; BIC leveraged its experience designing and manufacturing lighters—with know-how in plastics, pressurized liquid and gas, and mechanical engineering—to develop an innovative low-pressure hydrogen cartridge that safely regulates hydrogen production on demand. In 2014 a demonstrator system combining the fuel cell and cartridge was built in cooperation with BIC. The fuel-cell core was manufactured using the low-cost printing capabilities at the CEA's Pictic lab (LINK).

Together, the fuel-cell and cartridge, capable of producing hydrogen on demand, form a 5-W energy source that can be used to charge smartphones and tablets. And, because the cartridges are disposable, it is in theory possible to recycle or even to reuse the borates produced.

In 2012 Liten, Sagem, and BIC won the 39th annual IGA Chanson award for research, carried out under the Felin program (a French Ministry of Defense infantry equipment R&D program), to manufacture a fuel cell powered with a hydrogen cartridge. This technology offers specific energy of 300 Wh/kg, a threefold improvement over competing batteries.

Today Liten is working with Intelligent Energy, which acquired BIC's fuel-cell business) to develop planar fuel-cell cores from 1 W to 200 W and hydrogen cartridges with production capacities of 20 liters to 500 liters.


An efficient, long-lasting off-grid power solution

  • The fuel cell and cartridge combine to form a safe, portable off-grid charger.

  • The system is effective and the technology is mature, for low-cost scale-up to industrial manufacturing.

  • The technology is environmentally-friendly, given that the hydrogen is produced on demand and the cartridges are designed for recycling

  • Liten transferred the catalyst technology to BIC, but is still the leading center for research on FC chemistry, materials, and characterization.

  • Liten is studying new more efficient fuels (higher specific energy).

  • Liten is looking at ways to extrapolate the planar fuel-cell core and hydrogen cartridge combination to make other formats for higher-power applications. The French military's armament division is funding research that has thus far resulted in the development of a 120 Wh cartridge and a 10 W fuel-cell system. Other applications ranging from 10 W to 100 W are also on the drawing board.

  • 50 patents

  • 15 researchers

  • Publications

Bois C, Dumont PJJ, Blayo A, Vincent R, Nayoze C, Chaussy D. May 2, 2014. Evaluating the Effectiveness of Using Flexography Printing for Manufacturing Catalyst-Coated Membranes for Fuel Cells. Fuel Cells 14 (4):  614–625.
Vilarinho-Franco T, Teyssier A, Tenu R, Pécaut J, Delmas J, Heitzmann M, Capron P, Counioux JJ, Goutaudier C. December 25, 2013. Solid-liquid equilibria in the ternary system NaBO2-NaOH-H2O thermal behavior of double salts. Fluid Phase Equilibria 360: 212–221.

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