Fuel cells may replace rechargeable batteries

Some companies are hoping that a better answer to rechargeable batteries can be found in miniature fuel cells, according to an Aug. 26 article in The New York Times.

Ross Rubin, director of industry research at NPD TechWorld, a company that tracks consumer spending on electronics, says most consumers are pretty satisfied with their battery performance of their cellphones. But he does not expect that satisfaction to last as more phones come equipped with cameras and other features that gobble power, the article says.[img]

The fuel of choice in small fuel cells is methanol, an alcohol that is most commonly produced from natural gas, the NY Times says. Inside the cell, the methanol combines with water to make carbon dioxide, hydrogen ions and electrons. The edge hydrogen holds over the various chemicals used in rechargeable batteries is its ability to store much more potential electricity in any amount of space.

In the case of fuel cells made by MTI Micro Fuel Cells, Albany, N.Y., USA, and another methanol-based system being developed by Hitachi, palmtops and cellphones would no longer need recharging cradles, the article says. Both systems replace batteries with relatively tiny fuel cells. Prototypes developed by Hitachi store their methanol supply in disposal containers about the size and shape of a conventional AA battery. MTI Micro is leaning toward a square flat cartridge, although President and CEO William P. Acker says it would be possible to create oddly shaped fuel containers that would make the maximum use of empty spaces inside hand-held gadgets.

Duracell, the battery maker owned by Gillette, is an investor in MTI Micro, the article says. Acker says he expects Duracell to produce and market methanol refills some day in the same way it now offers batteries, but the refills will last much longer than batteries and will probably not be particularly expensive. Both systems have another advantage over batteries: the spent fuel cartridges will not contain potentially toxic waste chemicals.

To view the complete Aug. 26 article, "Giving the Battery, That Stalwart, a Fuel-Cell Challenge," click here. New York Times articles are archived after a week.

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August 2004