Canon shows prototype hydrogen fuel cell

Canon unveiled on Wednesday a prototype hydrogen fuel cell it has developed to power portable electronics products.

Canon has unveiled a prototype hydrogen fuel cell it has developed to power portable electronics products such as digital still cameras.

With its development work Canon, like several other portable gadget makers, is looking into fuel-cell technology as a possible replacement for the rechargeable batteries that power many devices today. Fuel cells hold the promise of providing more power for their size than a comparable battery, can be recharged almost instantaneously and are said to be more environmentally friendly.

The prototype, shown at a company event in Tokyo, is the result of several years research, said Kazuyuki Ueda, a Canon engineer working on the device.

It was shown fitted inside the extension battery pack for Canon's EOS Kiss Digital N professional digital still camera. At present the fuel cell provides about the same amount of power as a rechargeable Lithium-Ion of the same size but Canon's final goal is for the fuel cell to offer between three times and five times the amount of power, Ueda said.

While many of Canon's domestic competitors are also working on fuel-cell technology there's a different between the device Canon showed on Wednesday and many of those shown to date. Fuel cells produce electricity when hydrogen reacts with oxygen through a catalyst and most companies are working on fuel cells that derive hydrogen from methanol fuel. Canon's prototype uses hydrogen as the fuel.

The recent Ceatec exhibition that took place in Japan earlier this month provided a chance for people to see the latest prototypes from several different companies. Toshiba showed a DMFC-powered laptop computer and cell phone while the latter was also being displayed by Hitachi. Other companies, such as Sanyo Electric and NEC, are also working on DMFC development.

Despite all the development work commercial fuel cells aren't likely to be found inside products for several years, the companies say.

Originally Toshiba and NEC expected to have commercialized a DMFC-powered laptop computer by now. However those plans have been delayed pending regulatory clearance. It's still not possible to carry fuel cells or the methanol fuel onboard commercial aircraft so manufacturers see little use in selling products based on the technology until those rules have been changed. This is expected to happen in 2007 at the earliest.

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