Bic Wants A Micro Fuel Cell to 'Flick' Your Phone

Batteries are sold in convenience stores the world over, right next to disposable lighters and razors, and Bic's distribution network reaches more than 3 million retail outlets in 160 countries.

Published: 01-Dec-2007

Each day consumers snap up 10 million Bic razors and 5 million of the colorful plastic lighters made famous by the ad campaign "Flick My Bic." Those volumes pale in comparison to Bic's ubiquitous pens: The French company sold its 100 billionth in 2005. Bic, which had sales of about $2 billion in 2006, has spent 30 years honing the art of making disposable consumer goods.

Now, Bic wants to use that expertise for something far more challenging than pens or lighters. It's designing disposable cartridges for fuel cells, a kind of power supply that could someday eliminate the need to constantly recharge mobile phones or laptop computers. Electronics makers are drawn to fuel cells because today's rechargeable batteries can't keep up with the demands users place on portable gadgets. If you spend any time surfing the Web from your phone and e-mailing your friends, as well as making calls, you probably have to recharge at least once a day. With a fuel cell, you'd never have to look for an outlet; You'd just pop out a spent fuel cartridge and insert a new one.

The challenge, says Steve Burkhart, Bic's executive in charge of this technology, "is to make the cartridge as nontechnical as you think a pen is, and make it safe." Unlike batteries, which store electricity, fuel cells generate a current in a chemical reaction. Bic's new cartridges will provide some of the necessary chemicals, which could be methanol (wood alcohol) or any of several alternatives.

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