Could fuel cells be the hope for powering the devices of tomorrow? Writes NYTimes:
Many analysts expect fuel cells for consumer electronic devices to begin appearing next year in Japan. The betting is that the first to reach the market will be Toshiba, which is demonstrating a prototype of a methanol-powered cell this week at a trade show in Hanover, Germany. Toshiba says the cell could be sold next year with laptops.
Fuel cells run most efficiently on pure hydrogen, but storing hydrogen compactly and safely is a huge hurdle. Many designers of large and small fuel cell systems are trying to get hydrogen from solid compounds that contain hydrogen or hydrocarbon fuels like methanol and ethanol, even though those fuels add other elements like carbon dioxide to the waste stream.
Microcells have several economic advantages over their bigger cousins in the race to commercialization. Energy experts expect to cut the smaller cells’ production costs to be competitive with those of batteries long before larger cells can be manufactured at anything close to the cost of internal combustion engines.
It should also be easier and less expensive to persuade retailers to sell fuel cells the size of battery packs than to transform the huge national infrastructure of gasoline stations.
But the biggest reason the smaller cells are expected to become popular sooner is their appeal as a convenience something that consumers have shown a willingness to pay for and not as an answer to energy and environmental problems.