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Methanol Fuel Cells: The next generation of power

Finding an adequate and reliable power supply for off-grid security and monitoring systems is likely one of the toughest challenges in the security industry. Batteries, after all, require constant replacement and recharging – and power generators can often be expensive and high-maintenance.



December 19, 2008
By Vanessa Chris

The obvious drawbacks of current independent power alternatives have
left room for a new type of technology — one that seems to be arriving
in the form of direct methanol fuel cells. Touted as a more manageable
and lighter-weight alternative to its hydrogen counterpart, methanol
fuel cells are considered to be a more cost effective — and
environmentally-friendly — source of power production.

These fuel cells combine methanol and oxygen and create an
electrochemical reaction to generate power, emitting only water vapor
and traces of CO2. Unlike power generators, which take four steps to
convert liquid energy into electric energy, fuel cells are remarkably
more efficient because they utilize a direct, one-stage conversion
process.

While the technology has been around for quite some time, it wasn’t
accessible for commercial use until 2004, when SFC Smart Fuel Cell
became the only fuel cell provider in the industry to specialize in the
product’s low to mid-power capabilities for applications that require
between 10W and 1kW of power.

The result is a small, battery-sized fuel cell well-suited to remote
security, monitoring and fire applications because it allows more
cameras to be set up without a power outlet — allowing for easier and
quicker detection of fire and security breaches in large areas.

The cells work best alongside existing sources of power – such as
batteries and photovoltaic applications – to prolong a machine’s run
time. The design allows the fuel cell to detect when battery or
photovoltaic power is at maximum strength, and when it requires the
fuel cell to kick in. The result is an independent power source that
can last approximately a month without being replaced or maintained —
and when the time comes to replace the methanol cartridge, the process
is often faster than the changing of a battery.

“Batteries are good for peak power performance, but our system is good
for long running energy,” says Peter Podesser, CEO of SFC. “Most
clients already use batteries, so we take the existing system and put
our system on top of it.”

The fuel cell cartridge is built within a theft-proof enclosure, so
there is no need to monitor it more than once a month. In addition, it
has no moving parts, so not only is it exceptionally quiet, but there
is less of a risk of wear-out. It’s also designed to survive rugged,
outdoor weather.

More industries in Canada, the U.S. and Europe are starting to see the
advantages of methanol fuel cells. SFC has seen an increase in
commercial sales from 182 fuel cells in 2004 to 4,499 in 2007, and with
its recent expansion into the industrial market, the company is certain
that number will continue to increase.


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