Hitachi Details Fuel Cell Plans

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Hitachi has co-developed a prototype direct methanol fuel cell for use in mobile electronics products and plans to launch the product with a compatible PDA in 2005, the company says.

The Tokyo company developed the fuel cell with Tokai, which is a major producer of disposable lighters and aerosol dispensers.

Direct methanol fuel cells mix methanol with air and water to produce electrical power.

Hitachi's prototype uses a methanol concentration of around 20 percent, although the company plans to raise this to around 30 percent by the time it becomes a commercial product, says Koichi Nemoto, a spokesperson for the company's research and development laboratories.

The prototype fuel cell is a cartridge type around .4 inches in diameter and between 1.9 inches and 2.4 inches in length, said Nemoto. Hitachi considers this size, which is similar to that of a AA battery, as about the right size for commercial use and so won't be working on changing the dimensions by a large amount.

Product Plans

In making the announcement Hitachi becomes the third Japanese electronics company to disclose plans to commercially produce DMFCs.

NEC has demonstrated a prototype unit for use with notebook personal computers that it says will become a commercial product sometime in 2004. The prototype can deliver enough power for around five hours of use and the company's mid-term goal is to develop and sell a 40-hour unit by the end of 2005.

Toshiba has developed a DMFC that is intended to be used as a handheld charger for batteries for mobile electronics products. At present research has not progressed to the stage where a fuel cell small enough to fit into a portable device is within grasp so Toshiba hopes its charger, expected to be commercialized in 2005, will be the next best thing.

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