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Can you power a phone with water?

If you use Swedish innovation PowerTrekk you can – just add salt

Can you power a phone with water?

Text by Mandi Keighran / Portrait: Erik Olsson

What’s the big idea?
PowerTrekk. Basically, it’s a portable charger that generates electricity from water and salt. Kind of like a power plant in your pocket.

Who’s behind it?
The company, myFC, is an offshoot of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. In the early-2000s, they patented a powerful fuel cell, which was integrated into mobile phones. “We worked with many of the largest phone brands in the world,” says CEO Björn Westerholm. Following shifts in the mobile phone market, myFC turned its attention to providing solutions for the “power gap”.

What’s a power gap?

“The power gap is the difference between the energy the battery in your phone, for instance, is carrying and the energy you want to consume,” says Westerholm. “As people use more apps and networks, we expect this power gap will increase. So, we wanted to make it easy for people to create energy on the go.”

What can you use PowerTrekk for?

Any USB compatible device, from smartphones and tablets to portable speakers. The electricity is produced instantly and the company says you can carry the device on any aircraft, so it’s ideal when travelling.

Sounds useful. How does it work?
Simply add water and a salt-filled “puck” to the PowerTrekk and you’re ready to go. Based on Swedish fuel cell technology developed by one of myFC’s founders 20 years ago, PowerTrekk uses the hydrogen from the water and converts it into electricity via an oxidation process.

How much does it cost?
PowerTrekk 1.0 plus nine pucks costs €219 (NOK 1,843), and 27 new pucks cost €144 (NOK 1,212).
 
How much energy does a puck produce?
PowerTrekk 1.0 generates enough power from each puck to fully charge a smartphone. PowerTrekk 2.0, which launches in October, is nearly three times as powerful.

What happens to used pucks?
They can be recycled along with other metal products, and myFC encourages retailers to offer discounts for customers who return their pucks.

Who uses it?
Mainly outdoorsy types. “These are the people who are the furthest from the grid but also in deep need of energy – they want to document their experiences, blog, take pictures, and navigate,” says Westerholm. “We also think that every traveller should use one.”

How big is it?

At the moment it’s about the size of an iPhone, but 5cm in height, with a weight of 300g, meaning it’s probably not something to carry around for everyday use. There are plans, however, to develop “better designed products that could fit into any Louis Vuitton handbag, instead of a backpack,” says Westerholm.

What about green credentials?
“Yes and no,” says Westerholm. While it takes just as much CO2 to produce PowerTrekk as it does to produce a battery, the energy it produces isn’t based on fossil fuels (as 90 per cent of energy that comes from the grid globally is). “From a green strategic point of view, we can show the world, including President Obama, that there are alternative ways of producing clean energy,” says Westerholm.

What’s Obama got to do with it?
In September 2013, Obama visited Stockholm to get an understanding of Swedish innovation in new energy devices. “He was impressed,” says Westerholm. “He thought it was a really cool gadget.”

What does the future hold?
Things are are going well for myFC – they recently went public and listed on NASDAQ OMX – and there are big plans for the future. They’ve committed to recycling all the used pucks that are returned, bringing them to a soon-to-be developed central recycling plant from wherever they are in the world. There are also plans for new products that further integrate with tablets. “Our promise is that we will continue to develop products like this to make them better, smaller, smarter and greener.” 
 


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