Fuel cell research and technology has come a long way, especially when you consider that the researchers have now developed an alternative energy source for small household appliances, such as cameras, camcorders, and laptop computers.  Cell phones can also use fuel cell power, as can vacuum cleaners, coffee pots, and microwave ovens.  It can be rather mind-boggling, when you think about it!

Developing fuel cells for small household appliances could be the beginning of a major evolution in new portable power applications for household appliances.  Because fuel cells are small and lightweight, they can give consumers an ease of use never thought of before.  The fuel-cell vacuum cleaner would be lighter than standard units, virtually noise-free and, most importantly, be free of a power cord. It gives consumers a chance towards an unprecedented degree of freedom and ease of use.

This might not be what fuel-cell gurus had in mind, when they started espousing the green benefits of using fuel cells to run cars and even entire homes. Automakers, energy companies and others are actively pursuing those areas, but the potential is seen as still being a decade or more away. Operating small household appliances on fuel-cells are a niche with medium-term profit potential and one that the company developing the vacuum cleaner fuel cell earlier tapped into, when it unveiled a fuel-cell bicycle.

Fuel cells are like batteries except that instead of requiring a recharge they run off a fuel. The cleanest form is hydrogen, which emits zero pollutants. Using methanol or even gasoline to get hydrogen would not be as clean, but would still be a big improvement over internal combustion engines.  That’s why using fuel cells to operate small household appliances could be the wave of the future.

The fuel-cell vacuum cleaner, for example, uses hydrogen housed in a unit similar to a propane container, only much more reinforced. The unit is expected to supply 1,000 watts of power. Its operating time will probably be one to two hours, depending on the final size of the container. The hydrogen container can be refilled in mere seconds, with a quick connect or disconnect feature.

Should it ever be mass produced, vacuum cleaner companies could use their customer service network to deliver re-filled hydrogen bottles to customers.

What about other small household appliances that can be run on fuel cells?  Well, basically, if it uses a battery or electricity, it can use a fuel cell.  Consumers should take note of this and realize that just because we’ve used batteries for years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other power sources out there that will fit our ever-changing needs. 

Fuel cells are definitely the wave of the future, so get ready for them!

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