Toshiba delays commercial fuel cell

Toshiba has demonstrated the latest version of its fuel cell designed to power portable electronic devices, but problems with the new technology mean that production could be two years away

At a demonstration of its latest fuel cell prototype for portable devices in Japan on Friday, Toshiba said the cells would not be commercially available until 2005 -- a year later than previously thought.

There have been a number of fuel-cell designs, but none have made it to the production phase and realised the promises of a powerful, long-lasting and very cheap power source in a tiny form factor. Toshiba claims its latest attempt at the technology has created a product that is capable of providing an output of one watt for approximately 20 hours of operation, using a 25cc fuel cartridge containing high-concentration methanol.

According to Toshiba, previous attempts to create a fuel-cell product ran into problems because in order to produce power efficiently, the methanol needs to be mixed with a large quantity of water, which made the product too large and heavy to be portable. The company said that it has now managed to use just a tenth of the water that was previously necessary for an efficient reaction, enabling a smaller and lighter product.

Toshiba demonstrated the first prototype of its fuel cell at the CeBIT technology show in Hannover earlier this year. At the time, the company expected to have a commercial product ready next year. In September, research firm Allied Business Intelligence (ABI) published a report predicting that although commercial fuel cells would not appear till at least 2004, global shipments would reach 200m units by 2011.