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Mobile gadgets to propel use of micro fuel cells

Posted: 13 Apr 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:micro fuel cells? methanol fuel cells? hydrogen fuel cells?

High energy requirements for portable electronics are making micro fuel cell technology increasingly attractive. This is according to the latest eport by Innovative Research and Products (iRAP). Among the various portable product categories, iRAP predicts that micro fuel cells' use in PDAs will show the highest average annual growth rate of 89.8 percent though 2011, followed by usage in camcorders, chargers and other consumer electronics, with AAGRs of 83.7 percent, and in mobile phone applications, at 50.7 percent.

Micro fuel cells are expected to constitute a $12 million market in 2006 and are predicted to reach $112 million in 2011, for an AAGR of 55.7 percent. Among the various technologies being pursued, direct methanol fuel cells will capture the largest share, followed by hydrogen-based fuel cells and those based on proprietary fuels, according to iRAP.

North America accounted for the bulk of the market in 2006, followed by Europe, then Japan. By 2011, North America's share will decline to 57 percent, while the Japanese market will increase to 25 percent, displacing Europe in the No. 2 slot.

More than 60 companies and institutions worldwide are active players in miniaturized fuel cells today, according to iRAP.

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A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts the chemical energy of fuel, such as hydrogen or methanol, into electrical energy. Unlike batteries, which require recharging, fuel cells can continuously produce electricity as long as there is a constant fuel supply. According to iRAP, no universally accepted definition exists for micro fuel cells, but the term typically describes small fuel cell systems that provide less than 50W of power.

While fuel cells have potentially higher energy density than batteries, developing a fuel cell system for portable electronics presents several engineering challenges. Achieving high energy density requires miniaturization of the rest of the system by incorporating microelectromechanical system (MEMS) technology. High conversion efficiency also presents a challenge as portable-electronics designers seek to support fuel cell operation.

And safety, particularly with respect to fuel handling and storage, is a non-negotiable goal for system designs based on micro fuel cells, according to iRAP.

- Nicolas Mokhoff
EE Times

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