Hydrogen could soon power portable devices

Hydrogen could soon power portable devices

Battery technology for portable computers has advanced little since rechargeable lithium-ion batteries arrived in the mid-1990s. Now it appears the next step could be hydrogen fuel cells based on metal hydrides or methanol.

The Energy Department this year announced several dozen demonstration projects with industry, academia and national labs to develop nonpolluting hydrogen fuels that give off only water as a byproduct.

Over the next five years, Energy plans to spend a total of $1.7 billion on hydrogen and fuel cell projects. Nearly half that amount has already been obligated by Energy and industry partners. For more information, visit Energy's Web site.

'Two of the projects focus on portable devices,' Energy spokeswoman Christina Kielich said. She said those prime contractors are:

  • PolyFuel Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., making a methanol-plastic membrane fuel cell for notebook PCs, in partnership with Intel Corp.

  • MTI MicroFuel Cells Inc. of Albany, N.Y., making methanol fuel cartridges for cell phones and other small devices with subcontractors Dupont Fuel Cells of Wilmington, Del., Methanol Foundation of Washington and Flextronics International of San Jose, Calif.

Satellites and space shuttles have long used costly, long-lived nickel-hydrogen batteries. But the cost and size could begin coming down with wider adoption.

Hydrogen filling stations for cars and trucks went into service this month in Germany and Washington, D.C. The Washington filling station refuels a fleet of six General Motors vehicles used in Energy's Vehicle and Infrastructure Learning Demonstration and Validation Project.

Iceland, which built the first hydrogen filling station for vehicles, has plans for a hydrogen economy based on its abundant geothermal resources.

Among vendors not participating in the Energy-sponsored research, Motorola Labs of Tempe, Ariz., is experimenting with a miniaturized hybrid to power handheld computers and cell phones: a standard battery combined with a fuel cell.

In contrast, General Dynamics Corp. is working on small, portable hydrogen power packs to recharge devices with ordinary lithium or nickel-based rechargeable batteries.

General Dynamics' C4 Systems also is testing bigger military power packs made by Medis Technologies Ltd. to support ruggedized computers with heavy power demands.


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