March 9, 2006 10:57 AM PST

Fuel cell offers 14 hours of laptop power

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SAN FRANCISCO--A start-up called UltraCell is showing a 2.2-pound fuel cell prototype at the Intel Developer Forum that can power a laptop computer for 14 hours.

Production models will be available in 2007 and cost less than $500, William Hill, vice president of marketing at the 50-person Livermore, Calif.-based company, said in an interview Wednesday at the chipmaker's twice-annual show here.

Fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into water and electrical power, but technology and expense have kept them away from most markets. However, many researchers are working to adapt the technology for cars, mobile phones and numerous other markets.

UltraCell's systems are fueled by methanol, and included technology called a reformer converts it into hydrogen the fuel cell itself can use, Hill said. But customers shouldn't expect to just be able to buy a few liters of methanol and fill up their fuel cells whenever they run low.

Instead, UltraCell will sell fuel cartridges for less than $4, Hill said. The cartridges can be recycled.

Intel is working to address power source issues for laptops and other mobile devices, but is cautious about fuel cells.

The chipmaker and its partners in the Mobile PC Extended Battery Life Working Group don't expect to see fuel cells in notebooks anytime soon, said Kamal Shah, Intel's representative with the EBLWG. Numerous challenges, such as distribution and regulatory hurdles, will need to be cleared before fuel cells become a reality for most mainstream notebook users, and Intel isn't expecting that to happen this decade, he said.

Hill said one regulatory hurdle has been cleared, however: approval to use the cartridges on airline flights.

CNET's Tom Krazit contributed to this report.

See more CNET content tagged:
fuel cell, cartridge, chip company, Intel, notebook computer


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$4 per recharge?
The way I read the article, every time you want to recharge your
fuel-cell laptop battery it'll cost you $4, and you buy new
cartridges and send the old ones back? That sounds like a lot of
work to do it every 14 hours of use. I guess that's why they don't
expect it in the consumer space this decade.
Posted by samkass (310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
fuel cells
I priced some fuel cells for cordless nailers. Butane I think. They too were four bucks. And for a very few ounces of the liquified hydrocarbon.

Another is propane in a one pound cylinder for torch or light. That is about a quart of liquid fuel. Cost on order of four bucks. And NO REFIL. Of course I did when I used them at home. I made a recharge adapter that worked fine. As long as I didn't move them in a vehicle it was OK. I have seen refillable propane tanks way back. BTW the cost of small tanks of propane is about a buck a pound. True market is a gallon for a bit over a buck.

Too many markups in putting in small cylinders.

Hydrogen is not very costly. One can find out how much current can be obtained from a cylinder rather easily. One atom hydrogen is one electron. The remaining steps are an exercise for the student.
Posted by bigduke (78 comments )
Link Flag
$4 recharge killed my interest
I was excited and seriously thinking about buying it . But when I got to the $4 recharge fee (and hassle), that immediately killed my interest. $500 is a bit expensive but swallowable. $4 for every 14 hours WILL add up ($313/yr for 3hrs/day, assuming 100% efficiency). Also, because you have to order cartridges from teh manufacturer, which'll take time, you'll have to carry a few extra ones around.

The other major question I'm having that the article didn't addressed is: whether I can plug the cartridge into any laptop model or only models specifically designed for it?
Posted by thanhvn (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
carry a stack
Still not a usable option in my opinion. For example, they quoted air travel in their example. Does that mean I need to carry a weeks worth of batteries with me to last while I travel?
Since charging these is not an option, I wouldn't consider using them regardless of cost, but even if some would, my guess is the demand for them would not be sufficient for them to be profitable at $4 per unit.
Posted by BengalTigger (36 comments )
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There are no batteries
This technology does not have batteries.

The consumables in this case are "containers" of methanol. Methanol can be made in many different ways.

If these chaps want to charge US$ 4/- per "Methanol Charge" we will see the same kind of thing that happens with HP Laserprinter Toner Cartridges and Injet Printer Cartridges. People will duplicate them.

For them to make their Methanol "unique", they would have to dope their Methanol in some way and build their fuellcell to reject any undoped methanol.

I do not know enough chemical engineering to know if this is possible or not.

hakuna matata
Posted by sughyosha (21 comments )
Link Flag
So, do you suppose the TSA is going to impose restrictions on how many cartridges a person can carry on to an aircraft?
Posted by jmattw (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is good...
By the time this makes its way to UMPCs they will have over 24 hours of battery life.
By then I'm sure we'll be able to buy litte machines that will use distilled water to seperate Hydrogen and O2 and then we'll be able to hook our devices up to this machine as it pumps H into it. It'll probably refill it in a matter of moments, faster then a regular battery can recharge.

Maybe these machines can even be solar powered so we can set them in the sun and let them generate H that way.

Would the water harm the machine? If my cell phone produces water and I have it in my pants pocket for a few hours, will my pants start to look like I wet myself? I'll just say "ohh... uhh.. that's my cell phone.. ha ha.. you know... these fuel cell things... they.. uh... I gotta go..."
Posted by coryschulz (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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