Micro Fuel Cells Could Bring Many Days Of Power To Phones And Laptops - InformationWeek

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Micro Fuel Cells Could Bring Many Days Of Power To Phones And Laptops

Canon, Matsushita, Samsung, and Toshiba are among those developing micro fuel cell products, and Intel is testing the technology for laptop computers.

A flurry of activity in the development of micro fuel cells is pushing the technology along as an alternative energy source for mobile devices, although it could still take years to commercialize it for the mass market.

Developers of micro fuel cells say the technology is superior to conventional batteries for cell phones, laptop computers, and video recorders. The cells could provide days of talk time on cell phones compared with the several hours lithium ion batteries provide.

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Big electronics companies such as Canon, Matsushita, Samsung, and Toshiba, plus a number of startups, are developing micro fuel cell products. The International Electrotechnical Commission recently published a safety specification for cells for powering personal electronic devices. Fuels covered in the spec include methanol, formic acid, borohydride, butane, and hydrogen. The spec could help facilitate government approval for the use of fuel cell-operated devices on passenger airplanes as early as next year.

Earlier this month, Pacific Fuel Cell announced completion of a prototype of carbon nanomater-ial-based membrane electrode assemblies, dubbed nanoMEAs, that it says will result in low- cost micro fuel cells. Also, Germany's BASF Group said it will develop and test formic-acid formulations for Tekion, a company developing fuel cells for mobile phones.

There also are advances with the technology for notebook computers. Millennium Cell is providing a 15-watt hydrogen battery prototype for Intel's proposed Mobile Power System architecture. The hydrogen battery is a sealed, single-use cartridge similar in size and shape to a traditional battery pack.

And UltraCell recently unveiled the UltraCell XX25, a micro fuel cell system that uses methanol. A pre-production unit of the XX25, designed for the military, will be able to run a laptop computer in a typical duty cycle for up to two working days on a single methanol fuel cell cartridge, according to the company.

Still, much of the technology remains in the research and development stage. Said Jesse Pichel, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, in a recent report: "Micro fuel cells are years away from commercial deployment, but considerable R&D is under way, funded in part by the military to power portable communications equipment in the field."

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