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Fujitsu breakthrough slims fuel cell size

Improved membrane

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Fujitsu this week brought fuel cell technology one step closer to commercialisation when it announced it had developed a new material that allows these power sources to be made smaller and more energy efficient.

Fuel cells generate electricity as a by-product of a controlled chemical reaction. The fuel is a solution of methanol on water. When particles of a metallic catalyst are added to the fuel, the methanol breaks down. A membrane allows the waste products to pass through, maintaining the methanol concentration necessary for the reaction.

The higher the methanol concentration the better, but at too high a concentration some methanol seeps through the membrane, which limits the cell's power generating efficiency.

Fujitsu's new material allows methanol to be stored in a 30 per cent solution without leakage. That's enough, the company claims, to allow 300ml of solution to power a notebook PC for 8-10 hours.

Previous notebook-oriented fuel cells have had to work with lower concentrations of methanol and thus bigger quantities of fuel to provide sufficient power for PC operation.

Fujitsu's prototype cell, which uses the new membrane material, provides 15W of power yet is just 15mm thick, the company said.

Fuel cells are seen as one possible successor to today's Lithium Ion and Lithium Polymer batteries. Not only are they potentially more efficient, but they are less harmful to the environment and easier to recycle. ®

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