A team of researchers from the National Center for Microelectronics in Barcelona, Spain, have built a new lab-on-a-chip device that is powered by a micro fuel cell. The team has been working on the project for six years, and has overcome several major problems with the design of the device. The fuel cell used to power the system uses methanol instead of the more conventional hydrogen. While methanol produced carbon dioxide, the gas is used in other parts of the system to power other functions.
The team notes that micro fuel cells may have lost the battle against batteries, especially as lithium-ion technology continues to grow more advanced, but these fuel systems can still be used as an alternative. For lab-on-a-chip devices – those with high tech, miniature computers on board – micro fuel cells can provide more than enough power.
The prototype device is currently being tested with several chipsets made for different purposes, each with their own energy demands. How the fuel cell performs will help researchers formulate plans for future testing. The team also has plans to test how well micro fuel cells function in liquid environments. Depending on the results of these tests, micro fuel cells may be used for much more than lab-on-a-chip systems in the future. Researchers are optimistic that micro fuel cells will become a viable energy system for small electronics within the decade.