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Electronic Design

Fuel Cells For Handhelds Showing Promise

Fuel-cell technology for handhelds continues to advance. Mechanical Technology of Albany, N.Y., has improved its methanol-powered fuel cell, meant to power convergence devices like combination cell phone/PDAs. An existing convergence device, which is being used to evaluate the fuel cell, draws approximately 3-W peak and 1.7-W average power.

This prototype device delivers the required power in a volume of approximately 140 to 150 cm3. That's 20% smaller than the company's previous effort, unveiled last October. Also, the new cell produces twice that model's power.

The prototype consists of a polymer-membrane-based fuel cell combined with a fuel cartridge, a "hybridizing element," and control and dc-dc conversion circuitry. The hybridizing element, a small lithium-ion (Li-ion) cell, delivers peak currents. Since the company has also used supercapacitors for the same purpose, future designs could incorporate either a battery or supercaps as the hybridizing element.

The new model serves as proof-of-concept in the effort to develop a fuel-cell source that can replace Li-ion batteries in handhelds. Currently, Li-ions have a greater energy density. Yet by further reducing the fuel-cell element's size and improving the packaging, Mechanical Technology expects to exceed Li-ion performance. By September, the company plans to shrink fuel-cell size down to about 90 cm3 as it moves forward with plans to introduce a commercial product in 2004.

For more information, call (800) 828-8210, go to, or e-mail [email protected].

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