Electronics gone wild: Portable hydrogen, solar power look to replace the one-time use battery

Portable power outdoors has gone from geek to mainstream and new technologies like hydrogen power are entering the scene.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

We’re addicted to our electronics. As much as hikers and campers should escape the digital world when they head outdoors, the reality is that more smartphones, cameras and tablets are finding their way into packs.

And all that gear is power hungry. So add one more electronic to the list — portable power.

“Portable power has gone from a geek thing to a mainstream thing,” said Andy Howe, CEO of Better Energy Systems, the company behind Solio. The goal for manufacturers is to make the charging devices as lean and lightweight as the electronics themselves, and to avoid eco-harmful, one-time use batteries.

Advances in hydrogen power on display at Brunton and myFC are putting a charge in the category this year. Swedish company myFC’s PowerTrekk (partnering with Industrial Revolution) utilizes power generating pucks. The energy conversion process is activated when water is poured into the puck, and the puck is inserted into the charging device (MSRP $230), which can then charge 2.5-3 hours on a single puck. Brunton’s Reactor (MSRP $150) utilizes 1-ounce hydrogen fuel cells that are ready to go when coupled with the 5.5-ounce charging unit — giving phones five to six charges per cell.

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PortablePower_BruntonReactor

Proponents of hydrogen say the power has the advantage of being lightweight, rechargeable and available 24/7, even when the sun isn’t shining.

When the sun is shining, Bushnell’s PowerSync line of solar charging products features folding and roll-out solar panels. The SolarWrap line features a cylindrical battery case and a solar panel that rolls up into it like a window shade. The panel’s design isn’t just about easy storage, according to the Bushnell’s product director, Terry Mears, who developed the line. “It’s also very durable,” he said. “You can poke a hole in the panel and it’ll still work.”

PortablePower_SolarWrap

Designed with international travel as well as everyday use in mind, the Crosscharge from Solio takes a triangular shape and can charge two devices via wall outlet (international adapters will be available), as a portable battery pack and as a solar charger. “We looked at how people used things, and we realized that our customers travel, they commute, they’re students, they do outdoor things and they have things that are powered by USB,” Howe said. “We wanted to make something that people could use in every situation.”

PortablePower_Crosscharge

Portable power is taking more familiar shapes as well: Otterbox adds a sleek battery to the back of its protective cases with the Defender with iOn Intelligence line, doubling the life of smartphones within. It comes with an app that keeps users informed on how much life is left in the case and phone. Timbuk2’sPower Core Briefcase is a messenger bag with an internal battery pack that powers up devices via USB. The pack (called the Joey T1 charging unit) is TSA-compliant and can power up most smartphones twice on a single charge.

PortablePower_APL2BOOST

Keeping things a bit simpler, Eton Corporation’s Boost Turbine 4000 sports a hand-crank generator to provide power. A full charge holds two cell phone charges, and one minute of cranking the hand generator provides enough power for a few texts or four minutes of talk time.

--Billy Brown

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