Toshiba puts DMFC in a mobile phone

Company working on a range of small devices powered by direct methanol fuel cells to be released over the next 2 years.

Toshiba has put a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) inside a mobile phone, but commercial availability of the technology isn't expected soon.

The prototype mobile phone, which Toshiba is showing at the Ceatec exhibition in Chiba, Japan, offers around six hours of talk time with the DMFC, according to a Toshiba executive manning the company's booth. A conventional battery in the same handset would provide between three and four hours of talk time, the executive said.

DMFCs produce electricity from a reaction between methanol, water and air. Toshiba executives wouldn't reveal the capacity of the DMFC installed in the phone, but later said a 50ml cartridge could refill the phone's DMFC reservoir 15 times. That equates to a capacity of 3.33ml.

This isn't the first time that Toshiba has showed a DMFC-powered mobile phone. The company worked with KDDI to demonstrate a DMFC-powered mobile in 2005, but the latest model is considerably smaller than that one.

Last year, Toshiba showed off a prototype Gigabeat media player that was powered by a DMFC instead of a conventional battery. That device, which highlighted Toshiba's ability to put a DMFC in a small device, offered 10 hours of battery life with a 10ml reservoir. The company also showed an external DMFC that could be used to recharge a phone's conventional battery.

When products based on Toshiba's DMFC technology will be commercially available is not clear. The Toshiba executive said the DMFC mobile phone could be available next year, but a date has not yet been confirmed.

That timeframe tracks with what Toshiba said last year. At that time, the company said it was working on a range of small devices powered by DMFCs and expected to release them within one to two years' time.

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