Samsung develops direct methanol fuel cell

Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology has successfully developed a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC).

Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology has successfully developed a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC).

Direct methanol fuel cells mix methanol with air and water to produce electrical power. They 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 fuel cell could allow a notebook computer to run for 10 hours on a 100 cubic centimetre cartridge of methanol.

NEC said it expected to commercialise a product for notebook computers sometime this year.

DMFCs for smaller devices like such as mobile telephones or PDAs are being developed now and are expected sometime within the next one to three years.

Much of the development work surrounds the membrane at the heart of the fuel cell and the catalyst employed. Miniaturising 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 membrane that halts more than 90% of methanol crossover and also uses a catalyst made of mesoporous carbon, cutting by halving the amount of catalyst required.

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

Martyn Williams writes for IDG News Service

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