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A Personal Power Plant in the Palm of Your Hand

By Chris Maxcer
Feb 4, 2015 7:00 AM PT
kraftwerk

The problem with most portable battery-based chargers is that you still need to plug them into a wall socket to gain a charge. While some inventors have turned to solar, or even wind power, for off-the-grid power sources, solar and wind power take time and require Mother Nature to provide sun or wind. Enter Kraftwerk, a fuel-based hand-held portable generator that has launched as a Kickstarter project.

Kraftwerk is essentially a tiny power plant you can hold in your hand to produce electricity. Its USB plugin charges hand-held devices, such as smartphones or cameras.

So far, Kraftwerks seems to be resonating with supporters -- it has blown past its funding goal of US$500,000 with more than 7,000 backers pledging nearly $1 million -- and there is still a month to go.

How It works

Insert a small amount of standard lighter gas, camping gas, or butane, then plug your device into the single USB port. Kraftwerk will start charging immediately. Just like an electrical outlet, there are no buttons. It's that easy. Better yet, Kraftwerk does not require any sort of proprietary cartridge, and the fuel you need to run it is readily available around the world. One filling of fuel will provide enough energy to charge a typical iPhone about 11 times.

Kraftwerk is created and backed by a small German startup, eZelleron, which has invented a new kind of fuel cell to form the heart of each Kraftwerk portable power plant. eZelleron says Kraftwerk is protected by 27 patent applications.

To produce electricity, the fuel cells covert chemical energy into electrical energy, delivering 2 watts of continuous output with a peak power output of 10 watts. The process produces water vapor and carbon dioxide. It doesn't get damp nor does it create an odor.

Each Kraftwerk measures a little less than 3 x 4 inches, and is 1.18 inches thick. eZelleron says Kraftwerk is very quiet, and while it does get warm, it's protected against overheating. You can use it pretty much anywhere, including in the cabin of an airplane.

The Rewards

Early backers were able to nab a Kraftwerk generator for $99 and delivery in December, but that first option is all gone. Current backers can still get a Kraftwerk for $99 in three color combination choices, with expected shipping in February of 2016. The estimated retail price will be $149. The next available pledge is for one Kraftwerk with 12 cartridges of renewably produced LPG fuel. Or, you can pledge $249 to get three Kraftwerks. Some basic variations extend in price and scope, leading to a distributor-oriented pledge of $10,000.

As with any crowdsourced project, the question is, will it all come together in a working unit delivered to your door?

The Kraftwerk effort is led by Sascha Kühn, CEO of eZelleron, which was founded in 2008. Kühn earned a PhD in high temperature fuel cells. All told, Kraftwerk has a 25-member team behind it, and eZelleron says it has brought Kraftwerk up to a production standard, having produced a series of "flawlessly functioning prototypes."

The Kickstarter pledges will help support the financing of special tools for production as well as the purchase of components at wholesale rates. eZelleron, of course, notes that while typical issues with manufacturing might arise, such as a supplier missing a deadline or a supply chain problem, eZelleron is prepared to handle them -- and will inform backers if any delay arises.

For those who are concerned about the feasibility, this video from the Kickstarter project page shows what appears to be a working prototype.

Off-the-Grid Charging

All-in-all, the cool potential of Kraftwerk is in its off-the-grid promise: While there are plenty of standard battery packs available -- and even some reasonably portable solar-powered chargers -- Kraftwerk is designed to work inside or outside, night or day, with fuel that is up to 20 times lighter than batteries.

Because a Kraftwerk generator does not need a special proprietary fuel canister, it promises to be functional without locking a backer into a particular fuel source. eZelleron says it will warranty each Kraftwerk for two years, but expects the lifespan to exceed two years with standard use.


TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.


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