LAS VEGAS--During a demo of the PowerTrekk fuel cell smartphone recharger, the liquid reservoir sprang open, splashing me with water. No big deal. It was just water. It could have been worse.
The Powertrekk system uses sodium silicide cartridges from SiGNa Chemistry, whose execs I met with here, plus the water-based liquid of your choice (tap water, pond water, even urine) to make hydrogen, which the Powertrekk runs through a fuel cell to generate electricity. One cartridge will charge up an iPhone about one and a half times, I'm told, with charging taking an hour or so.
The system isn't for everyone. It's $200 plus about $4 a cartridge. Wisely, it will be sold at outdoor outfitters like REI. The pitch is that if you need reliable recharging for your mobile device, like a GPS receiver or radio, the Powertrekk will ultimately be less expensive and more reliable than battery-based rechargers or solar systems.
Andrew Wallace, vice president of alternative energy for SiGNa Chemistry, told me that the sodum silicide in the fuel cartridges is stable, but obviously reactive with water, so it can't be taken in an open container on an airplane. That's why the cartridges are sealed. However, in other applications (for example for larger fuel cell systems or for less mobile installations like power centers in developing regions), the cartridges can be made refillable.
See the video for the live demo. After the comical eruption of the system's water reservoir, we did plug in my Android phone and the device started recharging just as it was supposed to. Powertrekk should be available in the U.S. in May.