Electronic Design

The Elusive Fuel Cell

All laptops that integrate Intel's Core Duo mobile technology use lithium batteries. However, we keep hearing that the day of the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) will soon arrive. In fact, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) announced last November that, starting in 2007, air passengers would be able to carry on two spare methanol containers for their microcell-powered laptops. The background behind that announcement is interesting.

Fuel containers that conform to IEC Specification 62282-6-1 would be acceptable. The catch is that the specs for making those containers don't exist yet. You can read about what does exist at www.hydrogenandfuelcellsafety.info/archives/2005/nov/icao_executiveSummary.pdf. It summarizes the mandatory requirements for these containers.

Toshiba is among the companies working on the container problem. At last summer's Portable Power Conference, it showed a proof-of-concept container that mated with an MP3 player (see the figure).

The most remarkable thing about the container is its design. Toshiba attacked the problem of extracting the container's methanol contents without creating a vacuum by replacing them with the "combustion products" of the reaction that occurs on the fuel-cell electrodes.

But that explanation leaves a couple of questions unanswered. What about the path that outside air takes when it enters the fuel cell to provide oxygen for the reaction? Does the produced water vapor dilute the remaining methanol in the container?

Remember, though, that this demo was for show-and-tell at the conference, not a product that's ready for production. Nor will it be until there's an actual specification to test it against. Let's just say that it's on the cutting edge of how future laptops will be powered.

TAGS: Mobile Intel
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