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Fuel Cells For Mobile Users Are Coming, Sort Of

The batteries in our notebook computers, PDAs, cell phones, media players and other mobile devices let us work untethered from electrical outlets — but we can't stray too far. Depending on the device, the battery, and what we're doing (WiFI'ing, for example, ups the juice consumption speed) a charge lasts a few hours. Wouldn't it be nice if there were some way to provide portable power in some way that could be replenished quickly, and was light-weight enough to let you carry a day or three's supply around?

Answer: there is — or may be. Fuel cells.

But productized, consumer and business ready fuel cell technology seems to be up around there in the "Way Hard" list along with secure Microsoft OSes and universally funny sitcoms. The best place to find fuel cells that will use methanol (methyl alcohol, the most common approach) is in the news. Go back to news stories and press releases over the past five years, and you'll see any number of "next year for sure" predictions and announcements.

Toshiba, for example, has been demonstrating prototypes of methanol-powered flash-memory and hard-drive digital audio players for a year or so. They're due in stores, according to reports this past fall, "in 2007."

"There is a lot going on in the area with many big name electronics companies like Motorola, NEC, Hitachi and smaller start-ups working on fuel cells for mobile applications" such as laptops, cell phones, and PDAs, according to Jennifer Gangi, program director with Fuel Cells 2000, a non-profit education and outreach program that promotes fuel cells, hydrogen, all types and applications. "Plus There's a lot of activity on the military side as well, as a replacement for the heavy batteries for soldiers' equipment. Startups like Medis and MTI Micro are working on small fuel cells."

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