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Toshiba has engineered a portable fuel cell for mobile phones. The PDA-sized cell builds on work the company announced earlier this year.

The 130g (4.6oz) direct methanol fuel cell is used to recharge a phone's own battery rather than as a replacement for it. It generates an average output of 1W and can run for 20 hours - enough, says Toshiba, to recharge a typical phone battery six times.

The cell is powered by methanol, and water produced by the power-generation process is used to dilute the fuel to the correct 3-6 per cent concentration required for the electricity-generating chemical reaction. By eliminating the need for pre-diluted methanol, the cell can hold concentrated methanol instead, reducing the size of the fuel reservoir. The Toshiba cell measures 10 x 6 x 3cm (4 x 2.4 x 1.2in).

As yet, the cell is only a prototype, which Toshiba will demonstrate in Japan this week. The company expects to commercialise the technology in 2005.

Toshiba isn't the only company working in this field of research. In March both NEC and Hitachi demonstrated notebook-oriented fuel cells, as did Toshiba itself. Intel-funded start up, PolyFuel is also working on direct methanol fuel cells for laptops. So is German company Smart Fuel Cells. ®

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