Powering a Raspberry Pi with a Hydrogen Reactor

Powering a Raspberry Pi with a Hydrogen Reactor

I’m always building projects that require some sort of device(s) to be powered, unfortunately, not all of the locations that I need to install such devices actually have good reliable power. Having designed a number of solar and battery systems to power various bit of kit, I thought it was time I tried something else…the power of Hydrogen.

Fuel Cell Systems

Having experimented some years ago with Fuel Cell’s (that used to work as my UPS in my data centre), I know their potential but also their downfalls, but then again, Fuel Cell’s are nothing new.

The Brunton with an iphone

It seems to just about power an older iphone

A fuel cell produces electricity through a chemical reaction, but without combustion. It converts hydrogen and oxygen into water, and in the process also creates electricity. It’s an electro-chemical energy conversion device that produces electricity, water, and heat.

Fuel cells operate much like a battery, except they don’t require electrical recharging. A battery stores all of its chemicals inside and converts the chemicals into electricity. Once those chemicals run out, the battery dies. A fuel cell, on the other had, receives the chemicals it uses from the outside; therefore, it won’t run out. Fuel cells can generate power almost indefinitely, as long as they have fuel to use.

They are not the most promising methods for juicing up your gadgets like smartphones, tablets, cameras, GPS device or MP3 players but still they can be of use when you are outdoors or stuck in the wild. Brunton has introduced a compact little hydrogen fuel cell charger called the Hydrogen Reactor especially for outdoor adventure and gruelling trips, or in my case, powering single board computers!

To product reliable energy every time, the Hydrogen Reactor has small cartridges of pure hydrogen and to produce the 4500 mAh electric energy (per core) the hydrogen reacts with oxygen from air. Brunton say that the energy produced is enough to juice up a smartphone like iPhone 5 times to full brim.

One advantage of hydrogen fuel cell charging methods is their environmentally friendly credential as they use non-toxic chemicals. To fill up the Hydrogen Reactor

with the required pure hydrogen Brunton will have charging stations at local retailers or cartridge exchange offerings.

The Brunton Hydrogen Reactor has a price tag of around £70- £80 and the refilling cartridges cost around £9-£10 and unlike other portable charging solutions like solar cells, the hydrogen cells have no restrictions or limitations of charging in acute weather conditions.


Refuelling the Reactor

The Brunton Hydrolyser Recharge Station

The Brunton Hydrolyser Recharge Station

Sound complicated but to refuel, the Brunton Hydrolyser Recharge Station separates the hydrogen and oxygen molecules from distilled or de-ionized water. The hydrogen gets stored in solid-state Hydrocore cartridges. When the hydrolysed cartridges are loaded into the Reactor, it gets converted into clean energy. (You can download the Brunton Hydrolyser Recharge Station manual here to get more information on how it works)

My Verdict

  • Realistically, I have had around 2 days of powering an Arduino that had some code on it to flash 4 LED’s in a sequence
  • Cannot get it to re-charge a smartphone or large device > 1AMP
  • I’ve managed to get around 112 hours of  life from each cartridge (4.68 days) using a Pi Zero with substantial power reductions, limiting very much the applications I can do with it (Jeff Geerling has a great post here on how to reduce the Raspberry Pi’s power consumption)
  • Combined with a Raspberry Pi Powerhat, a Fuel Cell System such as the Brunton might be one of a number of potential power sources using a Raspberry Pi Power Hat

Sadly the Brunton is not really that powerful enough to be able to do anything useful with, but the idea has potential and going forward, I can see that Hydrogen Fuel cells have plenty of applications if we can get the power density right…so for now I will stick to lugging around solar panels and battery banks! 🙁


Parts Listing