Loser: Another Fuel-Cell Charger Flunks

Fuel cells look great on paper, but who wants to run a laptop off one?

5 min read

You’re in a strange airport, your laptop’s running low on power, there’s no wall socket, and your half-done report must get done today or you’re toast. You gape in horror as your screen fades to gray. The last thing you see before it winks out is the depleted-battery icon.

That’s the nightmare scenario sketched by the proponents of fuel-cell rechargers, and here’s the happy ending they offer in its place: you smile as you pull a fuel cartridge the size of a disposable lighter from a flap in your briefcase and swap it for the laptop’s depleted cartridge. The screen brightens, you hammer out that report, and nobody gets hurt.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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