Toshiba claims smallest fuel cell yet

Toshiba has made further progress developing a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) for use in portable electronic devices, it said Thursday.

The Tokyo company has produced a prototype DMFC that can fit inside gadgets such as digital music players and power them for 20 hours on 2 cubic centimeters of methanol, said Junichi Nagaki a spokesman for Toshiba in Tokyo. It expects the DMFC to be ready for sale sometime in 2005, though the company did not indicate in which markets.

Many companies are researching fuel cell technology as a possible replacement for rechargeable or disposable batteries currently used to power almost all portable electronic devices. DMFCs typically work by mixing methanol with air and water to produce electrical power. The only fuel that is required is methanol and the only by-products are heat and water.

Fuel cells being developed for use in notebook computers will be able to power a machine for up to 10 hours on around 100 cubic centimeters of methanol, using a small pump to aid in the mixing of the methanol and water, and a fan to help dissipate heat. Because the use of a pump and fan can make the fuel cell too large to be practical in small devices such as digital music players, Toshiba developed a DMFC that doesn't require these two components, said Nagaki.

The result is the passive-type DMFC announced Thursday. It uses almost pure methanol and, according to Toshiba, outperforms previous fuel cells in terms of power output by a factor of five.

It measures 22 millimeters by 56 millimeters and is 4.5 millimeters thick except for the fuel tank area, which deepens to 9.1 millimeters and weighs 8.5 grams. The total output power is 100 milliwatts.

Before it puts the new fuel cell on sale, Toshiba said it expects to produce a larger device for notebook computers. The larger fuel cell should go on sale at the end of this year, said Nagaki.

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