Imagine a cell phone that can run for a month on a shot glass of methanol. Motorola Inc.'s Energy Technology Lab is working on that. It recently showed a prototype of a ceramic-based fuel-delivery system that may soon power miniature direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC). In essence, a mix of methanol and water is fed into the fuel cell, where a catalyst sparks a flow of electrons. The result is a diminutive version of the large fuel cells that are now used to power some cars.
The new juice packs won't hit the shelves for a few years--and they won't replace batteries. Instead, researchers are aiming for a hybrid cell. "We want to have a battery on board to deliver high peak power and a fuel cell to recharge that," says Motorola lab manager Jerald A. Hallmark. This approach should provide five times the energy density of present-day lithium-ion batteries--enough to power a cell phone for a month.