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Portable hydrogen powered generators in Japan

Japanese startup Scitem will begin marketing this spring a portable emergency power generation system fueled by replaceable hydrogen cartridges.

The power generators are about the size of a briefcase. The hydrogen from the cartridges — which look like gas canisters — reacts with oxygen in the air to produce electricity through an internal hydrogen fuel cell.

The electricity can be used to recharge smartphones and other devices through plugs or USB cables. Power generation can be maintained by replacing the hydrogen cartridges.

Unlike batteries, the cartridges do not discharge electricity, making them resistant to degradation. Scitem has developed a prototype system with a 30-watt output, which is compatible with notebook computers.

Scitem is still exploring pricing, although it expects to sell the system for about 500,000 yen ($4,400) upon mass production. The company plans to market generators with varying electrical outputs based on the orders.

Headquartered in Ishikawa Prefecture, Scitem produces hydrogen canisters that are sold to companies engaging in research in the hydrogen field. The company sees emergency power generation as a way to develop new customers for its hydrogen storage units.

Scitem’s canisters can also be used to power mobility devices. (Photo by Kazuhiro Ishiguro)

Another promising application is mobility. Scitem has created a hydrogen cartridge system prototype jointly with Gita, a fellow Ishikawa outfit that designs machinery and makes labor-saving devices.

Like the power generation system, the hydrogen fuel cell is installed internally together with a replaceable hydrogen cartridge.

There is no engine, meaning vibration is reduced and no carbon dioxide is emitted. The technology can be used for a wide range of applications such as automated guided systems and kick scooters.

The hydrogen cartridges “can be replaced like dry-cell batteries so continuous operation is possible,” said Scitem President Kan Tanaka. “There’s no need to build hydrogen stations.”

Hydrogen energy is considered one of the keys to decarbonization. But the need for new storage and transportation infrastructure stands in the way of its widespread adoption. Scitem’s easy-to-move canisters could help solve this problem, if they can be produced for the right price.

Founded by Tanaka in 2017, Scitem also produces hydrogen gas generators and hydrogen refilling systems.

Though the company does not publish its annual revenue, “we aim to hit the 2 billion yen mark in three years,” Tanaka said.

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