For those who enjoy the freedom of travel in boats and RVs or for those who simply want to upgrade their next glamping experience in a major way, PowerUP’s UP400 checks all of the right boxes.
This past week Fuel Cells Works spent a few days reviewing the UP400 hydrogen electric generator, and it was an amazing experience despite a minor setback.
Technical challenge aside, the UP400 performed admirably. The technology in the UP400 is composed of a fuel cell stack that runs on hydrogen using an external hydrogen storage tank, but it also has a small battery inside the unit to help provide a jolt of electricity needed for the fuel cell stack to start up.
The UP400 takes hydrogen from a tank (pictured) and then uses a fuel cell stack to generate electricity that then can be used to power any device up to 220 volts and 400 watts, and it is currently selling for €6,500. On the front of the device there is the main 220 electrical outlet port, one USB A port, the inlet port for the hydrogen, an electrical port for charging the generator’s battery using an external source, and a small outlet port that expels the only emission the generator produces: water vapor. There is also a small LCD display that shows how much electricity is being used, the voltage, and the temperature of the fuel cell stack.
While the UP400’s €6,500 price tag may seem steep, it is an actual bargain when all of the benefits are added together. The first benefit is the ability to use the generator anywhere safely. In order to safely use a diesel or gasoline generator in a dwelling where humans live or work a person first has to have a special spot with proper ventilation, otherwise a person runs the high risk of causing bodily injury or death to the human occupants thanks to the harmful emissions caused by burning a fossil fuel. However, with the UP400 it produces water vapor for its only emission (besides a little heat), which means that it will not harm or kill someone with its emissions whether it is used indoors or outdoors.
When Fuel Cells Works started up the generator inside a home for the first time it was done in the utter assurance that whether the generator was left on for 10 seconds or 10 hours the results where emissions were concerned were the same: zero emissions. For people who live in areas like those prone to hurricanes and typhoons and for others who may live where it gets dark for several weeks out of the year, the UP400 is a perfect companion. After all, preparing for a typhoon or semi-perpetual darkness is hard enough, and having to worry about a backup generator killing one’s family while they sleep only adds insult to injury. Thanks to PowerUP and its UP400, such a worry can now be relegated to the past given the generator’s zero emission profile. For that reason alone, the €6,500 price tag is a bargain.
Another benefit of the generator is its low noise level. While fuel cell stacks themselves produce no noise, they do need to be paired with a cooling system in order to help keep them running at optimal efficiency. When the generator starts up the cooling fans rev up to 68dB and then settle to 50dB. At a 90 watt load the generator produced 60dB worth of noise (all measurements were done using the Sound Meter mobile phone application), which is definitely on the quiet side especially when compared to diesel generators and only slightly louder than some gasoline generators. This then allows the generator to be used as a backup electrical source in a home or as the primary electrical source in a campground without significantly impacting anyone.
For a point of comparison, Honda advertises the noise range of its gasoline-based EU2200i generator at 48-57dBA. The noise envelope of the UP400 was definitely low enough to enable a conversation to happen while it was running without having to yell or speak unusually loudly at anyone. The generator was also barely audible when a person stepped into a separate room. Future generations of the UP400 will likely be even quieter given that the UP400 is in its first generation.
Fuel Cells Works connected a number of devices to the UP400 to see what would work best given the above noted lack of a proper volt converter. A slow cooker and a heat gun were connected, but ultimately discarded as the converter from 220 to 60 volts was unable to handle the load for a sufficient amount of time. A 2020 Dell G5S laptop with a power brick rated for 110-220 volts was also used, but the power supply made a hissing noise when plugged into the converter, so the laptop was set aside as well even though the laptop showed it was plugged into power.
Ultimately a 90-watt light bulb was used since it had the highest power draw while staying within the needed electrical envelope for the voltage converter. The 90-watt bulb was used continuously for over 5 hours and only caused the pressure in the tank to drop by 75 bars (a full tank contains 300 bars of pressure). During those five hours the noise produced by the UP400 remained level at 60dB. A 2016 iPad Pro 12.9in model was also connected to the generator, but unfortunately it only pulled 2 amps worth of power which was insufficient to keep the generator from dropping into its sleep-mode which it uses when it does not detect a sufficient electrical draw to keep the fuel cell stack active.
Three other benefits of the UP400 are weight, reliability, and packaging. The UP400 weighs 22lbs, which is considerably less than most diesel and gasoline generators. For instance, the Honda EU2200i weighs 47.4lbs without the weight of the gasoline, and the Honda EU1000i weighs 28.7lbs. Even the filled hydrogen tanks weighed only slightly more than an empty one. Additionally, the UP400 proved 100% reliable during all of the tests. Every time the power button was pressed the generator started up, and after a warmup period that lasted anywhere from 30-240 seconds it was ready to go. After starting and stopping the generator 25 times over the course of the review period it never once had any issues turning on. The UP400 and its additional components (pictured) come in a crate that a pirate from the Caribbean or any other location would find highly suitable. All of the components, except for the hydrogen tank, fit snuggly in the crate, and such packaging allows the generator to be easily moved from one location to another.
Filling the hydrogen tanks for PowerUP’s generators also should be a straightforward process. One option is to simply take them down to a local Air Liquide location or similar gas company to fill them up, but PowerUP is also in the process of building a global network of cabinets located at marinas that will store filled hydrogen tanks. The idea is for a person to be able to use a smartphone app to unlock the cabinets, place a used hydrogen tank in the device, and exchange those tanks for completely filled hydrogen tanks thus enabling a quick turn-around time. Given all of the promises that hydrogen holds there will almost certainly be additional refill options in the near future.
Currently PowerUP Energy Technologies is targeting the UP400 for use on boats/ships, recreational vehicles, and people who want to live off-grid, and certainly the UP400 is an ideal solution for each of those use cases given its zero-emission profile, weight, and reliability. However, with some tinkering the UP400 could also easily convert a riding lawnmower to a zero-emission vehicle, and the same would be true of a snowmobile or similar mobile platform that needs to maintain a reasonable power to weight ratio. The generator can also be used to significantly improve a glamping experience given its ability to reliably provide electricity anywhere while not taking away from the experience with a lot of noise or harmful emissions. Moreover, while some may find 400 watts too limiting that issue is expected to go away by the end of 2021 when the UP1K (essentially it is the same as the UP400, but it will produce 1,000 watts) is expected to be released. The one area of the device that could be improved is giving users the ability to switch between a full hydrogen mode where the UP400 would be unable to shut down the fuel cell stack and switch to its battery, and a hybrid mode where the device automatically switches between its fuel cell stack and battery depending on the workload.
Without any doubt, the UP400 is a leading-edge product produced by a company that is headed in the right direction. In a high-risk event, like a typhoon, the generator is able to provide a reliability and safety experience that gasoline and diesel generators could never match. When a person is focused on pure mobility, leisure, or both the UP400 is also an ideal companion given its low noise profile and zero emissions. For responsible consumers, trendsetters, and people who are looking for the newest and best portable generator the line starts here with PowerUP Energy Technologies’ UP400.
Jesse Lyon, Contributor
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Fuel Cells Works, its directors, partners, staff, contributors, or suppliers. Any content provided by our contributors or authors are of their own opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.