Mobile Phone Fuel Cells Coming in 2007

Technology would rejuice dead or dying cell phone batteries.

Paul Kallender, IDG News Service
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

TOKYO -- A fuel cell technology that promises a quick fix for dead or
dying mobile phone batteries may make its world debut in Japan in
2007, according to representatives of Japan's two biggest mobile
communications carriers today at the Wireless Japan 2005 Expo.

For years, DMFCs (direct methanol fuel cells), which typically work by
mixing methanol with air and water to produce electrical power, have
been promoted as an alternative to the lithium ion batteries used in
notebook PCs and other portable electronics gear. DMFCs are useful
because power can be obtained instantly by inserting a fuel cartridge
recharger, developers say.

Some of Japan's biggest consumer electronics companies have been
developing DMFCs, but prototypes shown to date have been too big and
bulky or have been incapable of producing enough power to permit
commercial production.

That seems to be changing though.

NTT DoCoMo and KDDI, Japan's number one and number two mobile
communications carriers, plan to have fuel cell rechargers for mobile
phones in shops the year after next, officials from both companies

Japan's mobile phone vendors spent years trying to get the battery
life of third-generation mobile phones to match that of the country's
second-generation digital phones. Next year a new problem will hit
vendors when they put power-hungry digital TV receivers into phones
and when the country's digital TV network goes nationwide. The
antennas will knock usage time back down and that's where DMFCs will
help, vendors and carriers say.

Prototype on Display

In DoCoMo's case, the company has a prototype charger on display at
Wireless Japan. The device, which DoCoMo is developing in association
with Fujitsu Laboratories, will appeal to members of the carrier's
base of nearly 50 million subscribers who are looking for a quick
power fix, said Kazuhiko Takeno, a manager at the company's Technical
Support Group.

The recharger, which has a cradle design, is still a bit bulky at 5.9
inches by 2.2 inches by 1 inch, and it weighs 6.7 ounces. But it has
enough juice to do the job. The carrier's customers should be able to
buy a commercial version around mid-2007, Takeno said.

The version on display at the Expo improves considerably on an earlier
model that the company showed last September, he said. That's because,
despite being about the same size and volume as the older model (which
is marginally thinner), the new prototype has enough power to recharge
a mobile phone battery three times, which is much nearer to being
worthwhile for customers, he said.

The latest version uses a 0.6-ounce shot of fuel, just as the older
model did; the prior model, however, could recharge a battery only
once, Takeno said.

Improved Technology

Fuel-cell technology is also looking viable for KDDI's customers,
according to Youichi Iriuchijima, an assistant manager at the
company's IT Development Division.

At last October's Ceatec Japan 2004 exhibition, Iriuchijima showed
prototype rechargers from Hitachi and Toshiba, saying that improved
versions would be on the market in 2006. That schedule has slipped to
January 2007, mainly because that's when regulations will be changed
to allow passengers to carry methanol on planes, he said.

Both Hitachi and Toshiba have improved their technology over the past
nine months, he said.

Whereas the designs shown last October were only mock-ups and
displayed under glass, this year's versions actually produce
electricity. To prove the point, he took a vial of diluted methanol
and plugged it into the side of the Hitachi recharger, and the mobile
phone it was supposed to power immediately sprang into electronic

The two working prototypes take a different approach to Fujitsu's
models, however, being boxes that use cords to feed power to the
mobile phones.

The Hitachi version is 4.8 inches by 3 inches by 3 inches, weighs
about 6 ounces and offers two recharging options. A 0.06-ounce vial of
fuel, which snaps into the side of the device, can power a mobile
phone for about an hour, while a 0.5-ounce vial yields about 5 hours
of power, Iriuchijima said.

The Toshiba version is bigger, at 4.5 inches by 4.4 inches by 1 inch,
and the prototype weighs 8.8 ounces, about twice the weight of a
typical Japanese-model third-generation mobile phone. But size brings
power in Toshiba's case: A 0.7-ounce vial of fuel can deliver 20 hours
of power, he said.

These specifications weren't available last year and will change for
the commercial models, Iriuchijima said. He did not reveal pricing or
other details.,00.asp

"To buy an island is the same as courting a woman. You can never explain exactly why you love her. It's chemistry--something you cannot define--a feeling that you can stay forever."
-- Farhad Vladi, Islands (mag) Jul/Aug 2005

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