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Higher Power Portable Requirements Drives Micro Fuel Cell Development

Illustration only. Credit: Frost & Sullivan.
Palo Alto CA (SPX) Oct 15, 2004
The proliferation of power-hungry portable electronic devices has ignited fresh interest in next-generation micro fuel cells that are compact, lightweight, and powerful with inherent capabilities to bridge the growing power gap.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan's World Micro Fuel Cell Markets for Portable Devices, reveals that unit shipments in this industry are projected to reach $125.2 million in 2010.

"Once fuel cells enter the mainstream market, they will provide significant improvements in energy storage and also allow portable electronic devices to incorporate new features while simultaneously increasing their operating time," says Frost & Sullivan Industry Manager Sara Bradford.

The hype surrounding micro fuel cells is understandable. Their ability to deliver more energy per volume weight compared to existing lithium-ion rechargeable battery technologies is a much-awaited benefit. It is expected to resolve the issues related to shorter run times between chargings.

"Current advanced lithium-ion rechargeable batteries offer only three hours of continuous operating time while micro fuel cells could provide 20 or more hours of usage time, even in high-drain portable devices," emphasizes Bradford.

Micro fuel cells score over traditional batteries in many other facets. In addition to being several times lighter, micro fuel cells are simpler and quicker to recharge.

Military applications are potential early-adopters of micro fuel cells, given the need for uninterrupted operation and the desire to lighten the battery load for soldiers.

However, micro fuel cells are likely to encounter several challenges on their path to commercialization. For instance, the selection of toxic materials such as methanol requires greater attention to transport and packaging safety.

Issues such as methanol crossover, catalyst/membrane interface, membrane operating conditions, and electrode flooding in conventional proton exchange membrane (PEM)-based direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) also impede full-blown commercial acceptance.

"Although technology has evolved radically over the past few years, there is still room for improving the current efficiency rates of 20-30 percent closer to 100 percent," notes Bradford.

Ultimately, standardization of fuel cartridge size, shape, and other form-factor dimensions is essential for the micro fuel cells industry to take off. In response to this need, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is looking at uniform specifications for fuel cell cartridges and their chemical composition.

"By establishing a critical mass for fuel-cell-enabled devices, standardization is likely to be the key factor in giving micro fuel cells a larger share of the retailer's shelf space," reiterates Bradford.

Large-scale acceptance of micro fuel cells also hinges upon the ability to efficiently mass produce them at a reasonable price. Reduced usage of platinum and tie-ups with manufacturing facilities can drastically alter the cost of production.

After commercialization, the cost of the fuel cell system is expected to be in line with the prices of existing rechargeable batteries. Industry participants expect prices for each refill cartridge to fall below $1.

In addition to affordability, the added benefits of quiet operation and environment-friendly features are likely to propel micro fuel cells as the next big thing in power source technologies.

World Micro Fuel Cell Markets for Portable Devices, part of the Batteries Subscription, evaluates the current state of the market for consumer, industrial, and military portable devices. The study focuses on trends shaping the market and discusses possible ways of gaining market share.

Emerging applications, competitive analysis, and unit shipment forecasts for both portable devices reviewed and micro fuel cell penetration give participants a clearer perspective of future opportunities. Executive summaries and interviews are available to the press.

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Focusing On The Future
Cape Canaveral FL (SPX) Oct 18, 2004
NASA is well known for developing technologies that improve our lives and make our jobs easier. In yet another example, the Ford Motor Company is harnessing the power of space technology by using NASA-pioneered fuel cells to propel the cars of tomorrow. In early October, Ford put one of its latest demonstration vehicles, a fuel cell-powered Focus, on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

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