Lighter and longer lasting batteries for your gadgets

Today's gadgets are becoming smaller and more powerful but a
major roadblock remains: the batteries. They are usually heavy and cumbersome.
Miniature fuel cell technology is about to change the landscape.

Methanol could provide between 40 to 60 times the energy
efficiency of lithium ion and an energy density gain of up to 10 times.
Companies are starting to bring prototypes into the market.

Toshiba has created the world smallest fuel cell and
developed a prototype of a flash-based MP3 player measuring 1.4 x 4.3 x 0.8
inches which can run up to 35 hours with a single charge of 3.5ml of highly
concentrated methanol. The hard drive-based version measures 2.6 x 4.9 x 1.1
inches and can run up to 60 hours on a single 10ml charge. The players were in
exhibit at CEATEC in Japan.
Engineers at California Institute of Technology have also been able to create
fuel cell based button-sized battery for devices like MP3 players.

Cannon announced three new fuel cell prototypes: a larger
version to power devices like printers, a smaller version to power digital
cameras and a 1.2 x 1.6 inches version to power cell phones. The Cannon fuel
cell batteries are based on hydrogen refillable cartridges as opposed to the
more common approach of extracting hydrogen from methanol.

IBM and Sanyo Electric unveiled plans to develop a fuel cell
battery for the ThinkPad notebook. The initial prototype is capable of powering
up the notebook for up to 8 hours with one recharge.

Several other companies and research organizations are
announcing prototypes like the Nokia fuel cell Bluetooth headset for cell
phones, the NEC 10 hour battery life notebook, Speecys Corp.ís first robot
powered by fuel cell batteries.

There are still some difficulties to overcome. Methanol is a
flammable liquid and the government is reluctant to let anything on a plane
that could be used as a weapon.  Prices
are also an issue. Although methanol is cheap, there is the added cost of cartridge
manufacture, distribution and additional costs. Also, fuel cells tend to
produce a steady stream of electricity while the electronic devices require
varied power demands.

Even with these difficulties, the advantages of a fuel cell
battery are clear: a smaller, lighter and longer lasting battery with promises
to be made commercially available in 2006 or 2007.

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