Emergic: Rajesh Jain's Blog

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Fuel Cells

June 30th, 2004 · No Comments

Dana Blankenhorn writes about Toshiba’s small fuel cell:

Fuel cells last longer between charges than batteries, and they can be recharged with new fuel rather than new batteries, fuel that might be available where batteries are not.

Now Toshiba has entered the technology side of this market. That is the most promising point of the story, not the specifics of what they’re offering.

The fact is this is Toshiba, this is a big company that doesn’t do things halfway. They see opportunity here. So should you.

Toshiba’s play is with a direct methanol fuel cell. The fuel is a form of alcohol, and the cell right now is replaced rather than being recharged. Samsung and NEC are also in the piece of the market Toshiba is targeting. That’s fine.

The point is that the fuel cell market will have many niches, many fuels, many standards and many opportunities. It’s going to evolve very, very rapidly.

Forbes writes about MTI MicroFuel Cells, a division of Mechanical Technology:

[The company] announced plans to push a fuel-cell concept it calls Mobion that can be used in handheld electronic devices like PDAs and smartphones. The result, the company says, will extend the length of time such devices can run on a single charge by three to ten times, compared with a battery of equivalent size.

The basic idea behind a fuel cell is fundamentally different from that of a battery. Batteries store energy using chemicals. Fuel cells instead use chemical reactions to create electricity. MTI builds a type of fuel cell called a direct methanol fuel cell, or DMFC, which mixes methanol and water on one side and air on the other, separated by a membrane.

The problem is the water. In most cases, the water in the process must take a circuitous route in order to be circulated around the power cell where it is mixed with methanol. Moving the water around requires using some complicated pumps that increase the overall size of the power cell and hobble its overall efficiency. MTI’s approach, dubbed Mobian, uses a proprietary method that internally manages the flow and entirely dispenses with the need for pumps.

When the DMFC runs out of power, instead of plugging it in to recharge, you’ll replace it much like you would typical batteries, only less often.

Tags: Emerging Technologies

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