The demand for long running, portable power in the 10-100+ watt range has been growing in the past few years driven by military first responder needs, as well as an insatiable appetite for consumer electronics. The power solutions provided primarily by lithium-ion and other rechargeable battery technologies have not kept up with this demand, creating a “Power Gap.” Improvements in lithium-ion batteries are slow and measured, and are being pushed to their limits, in addition to the concerns related to their safety. The most promising technology to bridge this power gap is fuel cells, which generate power by the electrochemical conversion of a fuel.

Direct methanol fuel cells are based on two fundamental technologies—either a proton exchange membrane (PEM) which is the basic building block used by most fuel cells providers, or a silicon-based electrode fuel cell that has been developed by Neah Power Systems. This article will contrast and compare these two technologies and the challenges associated with their commercialization.