Mobile phones, GPS units, headtorches – all of these require power, leading to a demand for portable devices capable of delivering a charge when ‘off-grid’. The Brunton Hydrogen Reactor is such a device, but one that is remarkably different from those that have gone before. The clue’s in the name. The Reactor combines hydrogen with oxygen from the air to generate electricity. Power is outputted from a USB port in the Reactor via a clever little cable that provides mini USB, micro USB and iPhone/iPad 30-pin connectivity.
The hydrogen comes in a cylindrical core, which screws into the Reactor. Roughly the same size as a plump packet of Polos, each rechargeable core can deliver 8500mAh of power – enough to charge an iPhone five or six times. To put it another way, one hydrogen core offers the same amount of power as approximately 15 AA batteries but weighs just 94g, compared to around 320g for the equivalent in alkaline AAs.
At £135, however, the Hydrogen Reactor is a larger investment than most lithium-ion alternatives. It has other drawbacks, too. It took a little over 4 hours to charge a smartphone from 50 per cent; and because a continuous supply of oxygen is required, its vents have to be uncovered when in use, so you can’t tuck it in your pack and leave it to charge as you trek.
However, if you’re running a smartphone, a GPS, a headtorch and a digital camera, a six-day trip will necessitate multiple recharges. Putting solar power to one side as lacking reliability, you could carry one large and heavy lithium-ion battery pack, several smaller but collectively bulky lithium-ion battery packs – or the relatively compact Hydrogen Reactor plus cores. The latter may even be the least expensive option.
But six days is quite a long time off-grid and will mainly apply to those trekking in developing countries or wild camping throughout their entire trip. Secondly, and importantly, it does rely on all your electrical devices being USB-chargeable. Yes, some GPS and headtorch models can be charged via USB, but there are many that can’t, and very few cameras can be powered this way.
But perhaps the biggest issue is in respect of the hydrogen cores themselves. Unlike a lithium-ion pack, you can’t just plug these in at home or in your car to recharge. Instead, you have to take the empty cores along to an authorised retailer to be charged at a cost of £4. Brunton has advised that Blacks, some Cotswold stores and a number of other outdoor retailers will offer this service, so there should be good coverage nationally. But it’s still far from convenient to have to visit a store whenever your cores need charging. The alternative is to purchase a Brunton Hydrolyser – the device that charges the cores. At £225, though, this is unlikely to be an expense many of us will be happy to swallow.
The Brunton Hydrogen Reactor is undeniably fascinating new technology. It’s an indication of things to come; the first step on the way to a whole new world of power management. But, for now at least, it’s something of a niche product that will probably won’t appeal to many UK hillwalkers.
Weight 243g (with 2 supplied cores)
Output 3.8-5V, 2A
Capacity 8500mAh per core
Additional cores £12.50
Core Recharge £4
For week-long treks away from civilisation with multiple gadgets to keep powered, the Brunton Hydrogen Reactor is the perfect solution. For nearly everything else, lower-priced lithium-ion packs are more convenient.
Review by Ben Weeks
First published in Trail magazine February 2014