Toshiba develops portable fuel-cell charger

Toshiba will unveil a prototype handheld fuel cell unit that it expects to have on the market in 2005 which it hopes will allow...

Toshiba will unveil a prototype handheld fuel cell unit that it expects to have on the market in 2005 which it hopes will allow fuel cells to be directly integrated into mobile electronics products.

The device, which will be unveiled at the Ceatec Japan 2003 exhibition, contains a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC) and is intended to be used as a charger for the batteries in portable devices such as mobile telephones and digital still cameras.

At present research has not progressed to the stage where a fuel cell small enough to fit into a portable device is within grasp so Toshiba hopes its charger will be the next best thing.

"To make it integrated [into a product] there is still a technical barrier in making the DMFC small enough," said Junichi Nagaki, a spokesman for Toshiba. "This is one milestone that shows we are getting closer to such a product."

The prototype measures 100mm x 60mm x 30mm deep and weighs 130g with a fuel cartridge inserted, said the statement.

A fuel cell of this type mixes methanol in a 3% to 6% concentration with air and water to produce power. The DMFC in the Toshiba prototype can produce one watt of power for around 20 hours with a 25cc cartridge of methanol, which is enough to power to charge a mobile telephone battery around six times, said Nagaki.

Earlier this year the company announced the development of a DMFC for use with notebook computers. The larger fuel cell can power an average computer for around five hours and Toshiba hopes to have that product on the market sometime in 2004, Nagaki said.

In September NEC also unveiled its latest prototype fuel cell for notebook computers. The device, which was also larger than the prototype portable unit Toshiba will show next week, could power a computer for five hours on around 300cc of methanol, said NEC.

The Tokyo company also hopes to commercialise its technology in 2004 and has a goal of development of a 40-hour fuel cell by 2005.

Martyn Williams writes for IDG News Service

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