Methanol – The New Laptop Fuel?

A fuel cell the size of a CD-ROM and integrated into a notebook PC was unveiled at the Hannover CeBit trade show this March. The manufacturer, the Taiwanese firm Antig Technology, also displayed a prototype 12W fuel cell, for laptops as well, and a prototype cell phone fuel cell charger. (Say that ten times fast.) The company expects real-deal versions of its cells to hit market by end of 2005.

The beauty of this for notebook users would be a vastly extended battery life. Alcohol-based fuel cells, such as Antig’s, may produce up to 5 to 10 times the power per unit weight of today’s traditional lithium-ion batteries. As it stands now, lithium-ion batteries, which power MP3 players, mobile phones, notebooks, cameras, and personal digital assistants, are reaching the zenith of their capabilities.

The promise of fuel cells is no guarantee, though. Their primary fuel, methanol, is a hazardous compound, making refills a potentially tricky proposition. Hydrogen, another possible fuel, provides more energy than methanol but is even more difficult to store.

Still, the Antig Technology cell, along with other manufacturers Fujitsu Siemens and Millennium Cell, are working hard to overcome fuel cell drawbacks. Mobile device users stand near electrical outlets everywhere awaiting the results.

By Matthew Brodsky

Friday, April 08, 2005