Standards group checks micro fuel cell compatibility

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has formed a working group to draw up standards to ensure compatibility...

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has formed a working group to draw up standards to ensure compatibility between micro fuel-cells.

The devices could be launched as early as next year to provide an alternative power source for handheld electronic devices such as music players and digital cameras.

Formation of Working Group 10 (WG10) of the IEC's Technical Committee 105 (TC105) was approved in a vote on 30 July, according to Junichi Nagaki, a spokesman for Toshiba.

WG10 will be chaired by Fumio Ueno, a technology executive of Toshiba's display devices and components control centre.

WG10 is tasked with setting an international standard to ensure compatibility between the fuel cells and their fuel cartridges, Nagaki said. This will be advantageous to users because fuel cells need to be regularly recharged with methanol.

The first WG10 meeting is scheduled to begin for September in Chicago, and the group hopes to set common guidelines by 2007, Nagaki said. However, a number of companies are predicting the commercial launch of micro fuel cells before then.

"Just because no international standard has been agreed, that does not necessarily mean competing manufacturers will not be working together," Nagaki said.

"Since Toshiba, along with other Japanese manufacturers, are members of the working group, we will know what is happening and being discussed. When we begin manufacturing and introduce micro fuel cells, we can make products that will have compatibility with the IEC standards."

Toshiba has already shown prototype micro fuel cells designed for use in portable electronic devices.

In June it unveiled a prototype direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) that is small enough for use in a gadget such as an MP3 player and can provide enough power for 20 hours of use on a single charge of 2 cubic centimeters of methanol.

Toshiba expects the DMFC to be ready for sale in 2005.

Hitachi is also aiming to launch a micro fuel cell and compatible PDA in 2005. It is working on a micro fuel cell with Tokai, a major producer of disposable lighters and aerosol dispensers. It has developed a prototype that is about the same size as an "AA" battery.

In addition to micro fuel cells for handheld devices, a number of companies have also shown or are developing fuel cells for larger products such as notebook computers. NEC and Toshiba have both said they will launch computers powered by such devices this year.

WG10 is the third working group formed as part of TC105 that is looking at micro fuel cell standardisation. The others are Working Group 8, which is looking at safety standards, and Working Group 9, which is looking at performance standards.

Martyn Williams writes for IDG News Services 


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