In the mid 2000's it seemed as if hydrogen could be the future energy source we'd all be using on a personal basis, but such products haven't come to market for viable mass adoption. However, that doesn't mean to say the concept can't be explored on smaller scales; which is exactly what Brunton have done, by releasing what they call a Hydrogen Reactor, which charges devices via USB 2.0.
The Brunton Hydrogen Reactor is highly durable and compact, measuring 13.5cm x 7.3cm x 3.4cm, and lightweight at 146g, really lending itself well to outdoorsy types. The main rubber body colour is black and can be contrasted by either orange, yellow or simply an all black colour scheme.
It's recommended to be used in areas with a temperature under 48°C that are also well ventilated, as the reactor needs a supply of oxygen to generate electricity, so it can't be used in a bag whilst charging a device like we do with lithium-ion battery packs. This may take away from its 'traveller' characteristics slightly, but unlike battery packs which do require an original electricity source to charge themselves, this uses a different medium. It also trumps solar chargers when the sun isn't shining. Of course, Xtrom have a wide lineup of products, like the Xtorm Lava Charger, that sort of cover these bases as they allow for rapid charging via two efficient solar panels in the day and store this electricity into the inbuilt battery for the night. However, if you're caught off the grid at night, this hydrogen powered charger is an instant backup solution that requires no preparation. And unlike lithium-ion batteries, which lose their charge over time, the hydrogen won't diminish in its capacity.
Usability & Science
To get the Brunton Hydrogen Reactor going it's not too different to inserting an AA battery. Simply screw a hydrogen fuel cell (referred to as the Brunton HydroCore) into the reactor, and it will flash red for around ten seconds and then flash blue indicating that it's ready to be used. With words like 'fuel cell' and 'reactor' in the mix, we were cautious when screwing this in for the first time. But after using this for over 40 days, we can confirm it's just as safe to use as any traditional battery pack. Whilst using the Brunton Hydrogen Reactor we read up on the science behind such technologies, which we won't bore you with in this review, but basically the by-product that's released when hydrogen is used to generate electricity is water, so spurts of water vapour are occasionally heard dispensed from the sides of the unit, which is a very clean by-product.
The Brunton Hydrogen Reactor can't charge iPads and devices which require a greater electricity transfer rate than 5V/1A, which is what the reactor outputs. Our usage has been quite ordinary: we've charged things like our iPhones, portable X-mini speakers and wireless headphones using the USB port. As a guide of how much electricity is created from one HydroCore, we managed to charge an iPhone 5 from drained to full charge four times. This amounts to a capacity of around 9,000mAh. In the box we get two HydroCores, so this adds up to a combined capacity of 18,000mAh, and from these measurements it stares down equivalent lithium-ion battery packs. Significant improvements would be the ability to charge things like iPads with an upped USB electrical transfer rate; and the addition of another USB port would have been nice, but the logistics of this could be complicated.
Empty HydroCores can be recharged and exchanged at Brunton Hydrogen centres worldwide, but we feel a mail-in service should be available. In the UK, where we're based, the large Maplin technology chain offer the service in many stores, as well as some other retailers. You can find out if you're near one, by entering your postcode on their website: www.brunton.com/powerswap. An eccentric accessory to replenish the Hydrocores is the Brunton Hydrolyser Recharge Station. It's a rather expensive ($279.99 within the USA & £289.99 in the UK) accessory, that uses distilled water to extract hydrogen and put it back into the HydroCore. A brilliant concept, but one that we feel is just too costly to splurge on.
This is no cheap investment at $149.95 within the USA and £139.99 within the UK, so there's no doubt that lithium-ion batteries will do a lot more for your money. But the Brunton Hydrogen Reactor is definitely an interesting charging product that's using sophisticated and exciting technologies to generate electricity, and it is presented to the consumer as a very straightforward product to use, which is something for which we give it much credit.