If you’ve got money to burn and want to see an amazing feat of chemistry every time you juice your smartphone, the PowerTrekk might be for you. A fuel-cell charger that converts water into enough electricity to power a phone, the bright green Powertrekk looks like an environmentalist’s renewable energy dream, until you find out how it works and how much it costs to operate.
Developed by Swedish fuel cell company myFC, the $299 PowerTrekk has a fuel-cell battery lid that pops open to reveal a dual-chamber interior. On the right side, there’s a hatch you open and pour a small amount of water into. The other chamber contains a space for a round chemical cartridge filled with sodium silicate that’s called a PowerTrek Pukk. To generate power, you must add water and insert a brand new PowerTrek Pukk, then seal up the device and wait while the cartridge combines its chemicals with the water to release a vapor which then flows into the fuel cell battery, giving it enough juice for one smartphone charge.
You can either attach your phone to the USB port while the 2-hour reaction is going and wait as it charges or let the battery hold onto the charge for later use. In our brief hands-on demo, we noticed a slight musty smell coming through the lid during the charging as well.
Though water is plentiful and cheap (or free), the real catch is that you need a new PowerTrek Pukk for each charge and each of these Pukks costs $4. myFC CEO Bjorn Westerholm told us that the $299 device will not even come with a sample Pukk; you’ll need to buy a 3-pack for $12 before you even use the PowerTrekk one time! When you’re done with the charging process, you’ll also be left with a used Pukk that there will hopefully be a recycling program for. However, if that program isn’t convenient or people don’t use it, they’ll be disposing of a metal container that’s the size of a can of tuna fish and contains toxic chemicals.
To be fair, users can charge up the PowerTrekk battery for free by connecting its micro USB port to an AC power. So, if you’re not in the middle of the woods, you’ll be able to use this like any other external battery. However, you can get an external battery like the New Trent ifuel IMP500 for just $39.95, just 13 percent of the PowerTrekk’s price.
myFC envisions the PowerTrekk as a solution for people who spend several days outdoors without access to AC power. Westerholm said the company anticipates that hunters, campers and military clients are key target audiences for the product. However, we have to wonder whether those people would be better off carrying a couple of spare rechargeable batteries into the woods than a box of $4 disposable Pukks.