Running your cellphone on alcohol is becoming closer to reality than a drinker's dream, thanks to Bavarian technology. Munich-based Smart Fuel Cell GmbH has shown early production examples of a methanol-fuelled device capable of producing 40 watts of power and intended to provide electrical energy for laptop, printer and cellphone at the same time.
The company claims that a single 125 millilitre cartridge of methanol -- a common alcohol costing around ten pence a litre in bulk -- will power a laptop for a full working day. Recharging is a matter of putting in a new cartridge, and takes seconds.
Fuel cells work by converting common high-energy fuels such as ethanol, methanol or hydrogen directly into electrical energy and benign by-products such as carbon dioxide and water. Smart Fuel Cell compares the emissions of its cell to those of a small child. Methanol is a popular candidate for fuel cells because of its low cost, low environmental impact and toxicity, and relative safety -- although it is currently produced as a byproduct of the petrochemical industry, it can also be produced through fermentation. Its major market is in windscreen washing liquid.
Smart Fuel Cell says that it is planning to produce around a thousand of its fuel cells this year, most of which will go into test and experimental uses including traffic systems, remote sensors, camping and outdoor equipment. The company is aiming for the price and size of the laptop version to be comparable with lithium-ion cells, the current leader for portable power, but says that the fuel cells will have three times the power density in watts per kilogram.
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