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A micro fuel cell (MFC) is a power source that uses oxidized hydrogen to convert chemical energy into usable electrical energy. MFCs power small electronic devices such as laptops, cameras and portable radios.
MFCs are scaled-down versions of the hydrogen fuel cells used in vehicles. Unlike a voltaic cell battery, which uses an electrolyte and various metals and may take hours to recharge, MFCs are self-consuming and can be refilled as needed.
A micro fuel cell converts the chemical energy of a fuel, such as hydrogen or methanol, into electrical energy. Unlike batteries that require recharging, fuel cells produce electricity on a continual basis, provided that there is a constant supply of fuel. The term MFC typically describes small fuel cell systems that provide less than 50 watts of power.
Each MFC has a membrane bordered on each side by water, which serves as a catalyst and agent to induce a chemical reaction. Because a fuel cell is always discharging and self-consuming, the negative electrode (anode) produces protons, electrons and carbon dioxide. During discharge, the electrons inside the MFC move toward the positive electrode (cathode) and then move through outside wires back toward the anode. Then, the electrons and protons meet again, reacting with oxygen and producing heat and water vapor, which are emitted into the air. The electrons moving from the cathode toward the anode provide the power for the electrical systems of devices such as laptop computers, smartphones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). The anode also produces carbon dioxide, which is emitted into the air.
The cost of MFCs is expected to decrease over the next few years as technology develops and the worldwide MFC device market expands.