Samsung develops direct methanol fuel cell

Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, the research and development arm of South Korea's Samsung Electronics, has successfully developed a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC), the company said Tuesday.

Direct methanol fuel cells mix methanol with air and water to produce electrical power and are viewed by many as a potential successor to Lithium-Ion and other batteries used in devices such as notebook personal computers and other portable electronics devices. Many major electronics companies are developing DMFCs, and Samsung said its new fuel cell could allow a notebook computer to run for 10 hours on a 100 cubic centimeter (cc) cartridge of methanol.

For all its promise, DMFCs are yet to appear on the market although NEC has said it expects to commercialize a product for notebook computers sometime in 2004.

DMFCs for smaller devices like mobile telephones or PDAs (personal digital assistants) are being developed now and are expected sometime within the next one to three years, according to estimates from companies developing the technology.

A lot of the development work surrounds the membrane at the heart of the fuel cell and the catalyst employed. Miniaturizing the DMFC and extending its life means using a higher concentration of methanol, although that has caused problems with the membrane and some wastage of methanol.

Samsung said its fuel cell uses a new membrane that halts more than 90 percent of methanol crossover and also uses a catalyst made of mesoporous carbon, cutting by half the amount of catalyst required.

Alongside Samsung and NEC, several other companies have recently announced breakthroughs in DMFC technology and begun talking about plans for commercialization of the devices.

Toshiba is planning a DMFC-based recharger for devices as an initial step before commercialization of DMFCs small enough to replace batteries in portable products, while Hitachi Ltd. is developing a DMFC-based PDA. Fujitsu Ltd. also recently announced development of a new membrane for DMFCs.

Samsung said it has been invited to present details of its DMFC at the International Conference of Small Fuel Cell, scheduled to be held in the US in May this year.

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