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Low-Cost Fuel Cells Run on Fire

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JacobsonCraig Jacobson, an entrepreneur, scientist, and CEO of startup Point Source Power, has chosen what is usually considered an improbable technology, the fuel cell, as a power source for off-grid villagers in Kenya.

Typically, fuel cells are more expensive than grid power in both 3rd world countries and the developed world. Portable fuel cells have yet to catch on.

Jacobson created a rugged device that uses the existing infrastructure for cookstoves. Point Source Power produced the Voto, a small fuel cell that can charge LED light, batteries, or cell phones when placed in a cooking stove. Charcoal is the main source of heat used to produce electricity, although the Voto can run on any biomass.

In the second half of 2013, Point Source Power intends to distribute the five-watt Voto in Kenya and sell it as a home charger for cell phones and a replacement for kerosene used for lighting.

Jacobson found a cheaper alternative to fuel cell technology by licensing technology from Berkeley National Laboratory that swaps out the expensive and brittle ceramics in traditional fuel cells with fuel cell “cards.”

Point Source Power’s intellectual property is in a fabrication technique that allows it to make the cards so that very little ceramic material is used. Using off-the-shelf equipment, the company sinters a thin layer of ceramic onto the metal cards. The device also uses a low-cost catalyst. It’s Jacobson’s goal to lower the cost enough to make it a viable fuel source.

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