Fujitsu claims advance in fuel cell technology

Fujitsu claims advance in fuel cell technology

Fujitsu has made progress in the development of a key component for direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC), which are viewed as a future power source for portable equipment.

The company is the second in as many weeks to announce development of a new membrane that should help lead to smaller and more efficient fuel cells.

The membrane is at the heart of a fuel cell and separates a mixture of water and methanol from a catalyst. A high concentration of methanol to water is desirable because it lengthens running time, but if this concentration is too high fuel can leak across the membrane and be wasted. Many current DMFC prototypes use a membrane that allows a concentration of up to 10 per cent methanol to water. Fujitsu's new membrane allows for a concentration of up to 30 per cent, company spokesperson, Scott Ikeda, said.

Applied to a prototype fuel cell with 300ml of 30 per cent methanol, the new membrane allows the fuel cell to deliverd enough power to run a notebook computer for more than eight hours.

The same fuel cell using the old membrane and 10 per cent methanol concentration provided power for one-third this time, Ikeda said. A similar development was claimed a week ago by PolyFuel.

The California-based start-up has already begun supplying samples of its membrane to fuel cell developers.

Fujitsu said it would allow concentrations in excess of 50 per cent with the result being smaller, lighter and cheaper fuel cells. By detailing its development work on the new membrane, Fujitsu has also confirmed that it too is working on fuel cell technology.

Several other major Japanese electronics companies, including NEC, Toshiba and Hitachi, are also developing fuel cells for use in portable electronics applications.

Fujitsu said it had no firm commercialisation plan for the technology although some of the other companies did.

The most advanced appears to be NEC, which has already shown a prototype and promised that a fuel cell for use with notebook computers will be available this year.

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