A Cubic Centimeter-size Charger to Save Your Day

It's most unpleasant when your gadget goes flat at the most inappropriate moment, and you have no way to charge it. When in the city, it is only uncomfortable, but what about being out in the country, or in an emergency situation? Residents of the Future Technologies accelerator offer an answer to this problem — they've developed a miniature power source that is great at charginglow-power devices like mobile phones. Stepan Konakov, the project’s author, shared about his invention.

We wanted to create a very small power source that would produce enough energy to charge a smartphone or a tablet, and that would be handy, as well. After analyzing the problem, we understood that we need a device that would generate electricity from gas. Most people who go hiking for a long time take bottled gas with them. Yet, until recent time there weren't the technologies necessary to create a sufficiently small device. That's where we come in.

The main task we solved was creating a device for gas combustion which is less than 1 cm in size. There were many problems with it, as small flames tend to extinguish — and we needed them to burn. There are lots of articles dedicated to this problem; yet, our approach was different from any of those, as we used details and structures based on microtechnologies. Those were photolithography and etching technologies that are used to produce modern computer chips. The difference is that we created a complex 3D microstructure with lots of canals for fuel. As result, we've succeeded in designing a minuscule combustion chamber (microreactor) with a 100 microliter capacity.

In collaboration with St. Petersburg's leading enterprises, we've produced a batch of experimental microreactors, on which we tested our calculations. This project is unique for both St. Petersburg, and maybe even Russia as a whole, as almost no one in our country does research in such field as miniaturization of functional devices, chemical reactors and combustion cameras included. That's quite sad, as there are lots of possible applications of such research. In other countries, this field is appreciated a lot more.

Our devices can be used not only in hiking trips, but in any places where there is no centralized power supply. For everyday necessities, people often use generator units, but it's a waste to turn on these rowdy machines to just charge a cell phone. On the other hand, many use gas to prepare food. Thus, one can use our device to charge a smartphone or a tablet without using a big generator.

Now, we are working on charging low-power devices, but we plan on increasing our product range, so our power sources might as well find application in more global tasks. Their high energy density and operational freedom make them great power sources for outlying autonomous communication points or buoyant signal beacons. The structural features of such objects allow organizing ceaseless functioning for up to ten years without any maintenance.

As for how this idea came to my mind, it was two factors combined. The first is my scientific background — after designing various microdevices for over six years, I understand their potential and the revolutionary opportunities they offer. Almost every device can be produced as a microsystem, and its specific performance will be even better. This was the approach we used for our project. The other factor that led me to this idea is my personal experience. I've been hiking for many years, been in the mountains. In many cases, there was no sun to use solar batteries, and no firewood to cook on, so we used gas. The only connection to the outside world was by using a radiophone. We kept spare batteries within our clothing so they wouldn't flat out under minus 40 degree conditions, and even then we could use them for no more than 20 minutes. Our device is really small and easy to carry, but it can be of great help in an emergency, or simply make one's hiking trip a lot more comfortable.

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