Toshiba shows fuel cell prototype

Toshiba shows first working prototype fuel cell for notebook PCs, but says it is delaying commercialization about three years.

Toshiba used the Cebit trade show to demonstrate for the first time an operating prototype fuel cell for notebook PCs, but the company, citing size, weight and regulatory concerns, said it will not commercialize the technology for about another three years.

The company previously said that it intended to have its direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) for notebook PCs ready for the market in 2004, but the schedule has slipped several times.

DMFCs are being developed to replace batteries for portable electronic devices and they typically work by mixing methanol with air and water to produce electrical power. Only methanol is required as fuel, and the by-products are heat and water.

The prototype shown at Cebit produces about 20 watts of power and can power an A5-size Portege M300 notebook PC for about 10 hours on a single charge of nearly 100 percent concentration of methanol, according to the company.

Toshiba declined to give exact specifications, but the prototype is about a liter in volume, weighs about a kilogram and needs to be shrunk to about half or a third of its present size and weight before it is put on sale, said Tomoaki Arimura, a specialist at the company's Methanol Fuel Cell Group.

"This size is not suitable for mobile applications and we have to adopt new parts," he said.

Future versions will also provide up to 25 watts to 30 watts of power, he said.

As there are no fundamental issues with the technology's power production, Toshiba will this year start testing evaluation models of the prototype. At the same time it is working on getting undisclosed vendors to make smaller pumps, valves and other parts, he said.

As the company works through these issues, it does not believe a market will develop for DMFCs until regulations are approved to allow airplane passengers to carry fuel cell cartridges, said Midori Suzuki, a spokeswoman for the company.

This should be possible in 2007 following a December decision by a United Nations committee to fast-track such regulations.

This issue is one factor that has already caused NEC Corp. to delay commercialization of its own DMFC until that year.

Meanwhile, a Taipei-based company claims it has three types of DMFCs ready for the market and is already talking to a number of PC vendors about commercialization.

Antig Technology, which was displaying its DMCF models at Cebit, has developed what it claims is the world's first CD ROM-sized fuel cell that can slot into the CD-ROM drive space of a notebook PC, according to Cary Chen, deputy account manager of the company's sales and marketing division. This 435 gram DMFC produces 10 watts and 7.2 volts and is 190 millimeters by 128 millimeters by 30 millimeters.

Also on display was a DMFC-based, 128 gram battery charger that can refresh the battery for an ordinary 3G (third-generation) mobile phone in about an hour, Chen said. The mobile phone battery recharger produces 3 watts and 5.5 volts and is 170 millimeters by 80 millimeters by 15 millimeters. A 629 gram notebook PC version produces 12 watts and 17 volts and is 310 millimeters by 55 millimeters by 50 millimeters.

While all versions of Antig's DMCFs work on a 10 percent to 15 percent concentration of methanol fuel, the company has yet to decide what size fuel cartridges are best suited for commercialization, said Eric Deng, deputy project manager of the company's Product and Technology Development Division.

Because fuel cell cartridge production, refueling technology and sales channels have yet to be developed, it will probably take until around 2007 before the company's fuel cells become widely commercially available, Chen said.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
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

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?