Smaller, more powerful PC fuel cell is on the way

A new fuel cell for notebook PCs, more compact and powerful than competing technologies, could be on the market in early 2006 at a price of around US$90, its Japanese inventors said Tuesday.

Materials and Energy Research Institute Tokyo (Merit) is betting on direct borohydride fuel cell (DBFC) technology, which it sees as cheaper and more compact than the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) technology other Japanese companies are developing.

Fuel cells generate an electrical current from a chemical reaction between a hydrogen-containing fuel and oxygen. How much current a cell produces depends on a number of factors including the exact chemical reaction involved and the area of the membrane which separates the fuel from the oxygen. The length of time which the cell can produce power varies with the nature of the particular reaction and the amount of fuel stored in a reservoir.

The technology developed by Merit is similar to the DMFC types, but has several significant advantages, said Seiji Suda, president of Merit.

As with DMFCs, Merit's fuel cell has an anode, a cathode and a membrane, but instead of using methanol as fuel, it uses a solution of sodium borohydride. Merit's fuel cells develop about four times more power for the same area of membrane than DMFCs, Suda said.

"With DBFC, the anode is nickel alloy, which is very cheap, and the membrane is a conventional one. It's all very compact," he said.

The fuel cell will measure 80 millimeters (mm) by 84.6 mm by about 3 mm, and will be able to produce 20 watts of power, enough for a notebook PC, Suda said. "We also intend to stack five of the cells together and connect them in series so that they produce 100 watts. We'll have a working prototype that is suitable to demonstrate mass production for industry in the best case in four months," he said.

Commercial versions should be available in the first few months of 2006, and will cost around US$90, he said.

Sodium borohydride dissolves in water at room temperature and is commonly used to bleach magazine and print paper. Dissolved in an alkaline solution at concentrations up to 10 percent, it can be stored in cartridges shaped like a pen or a printer ink cartridge. A cartridge containing between 10 milliliters and 20 milliliters of the fuel solution will provide three hours to four hours of power, he said.

The chemical typically costs about US$50 per kilogram, and at this price, a cartridge of it will cost about YEN 150 (US$1.40), said Suda.

"We are also talking to several U.S. and European chemical companies and they are eager to sign up to mass produce sodium borohydride. In about five years, we could see the price dropping to YS$1 per kilo," he said.

Merit is talking to two companies outside Japan to produce fuel cells commercially, and also to a number of distributor companies to provide the fuel at retail outlets. The company is confident it will sign contracts for cell manufacturing and fuel distribution before the end of 2004, he said.

In the laboratory, Merit also has built a smaller fuel cell prototype for mobile phones. The device is about 20mm by 30mm by 2mm and produces one watt of power. The company is planning to shrink this prototype to about 10mm square, but does not have fixed commercialization plans yet, Suda said.

Several of Japan's largest consumer electronics companies have shown prototype DMFCs for notebook PCs and mobile phone chargers, but they have not announced prices for future commercial versions of their fuel cells.

Earlier this month Hitachi demonstrated a notebook PC fuel cell and last week, NEC Corp. showed a notebook PC fuel cell that resembled a notebook computer dock.

In August, NTT DoCoMo and Fujitsu Laboratories announced a fuel cell for recharging cell phones, while Hitachi and Toshiba both showed fuel cell phone charger prototypes earlier this month. Earlier this year, Toshiba also announced a fuel cell for portable electronics applications.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Paul Kallender

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?