Toshiba shows (photos of) fuel cells

We've written about direct methanol fuel cells. We can't yet report seeing one in the flesh, so to speak, but we have seen photos. That's as close as the technology's developer, Toshiba, is letting anyone in this part of the world get.

We've written about direct methanol fuel cells. We can’t yet report seeing one in the flesh, so to speak. But we have seen photos.

That’s as close as the technology’s developer, Toshiba, is letting anyone in this part of the world get to the exciting new energy source. A prototype DMFC-powered sub-notebook PC was on show at the CeBIT trade fair in Germany in March. But the company wasn’t willing to put them on display at Sydney’s CeBIT this week.

Australia and New Zealand marketing manager Mark Whittard says the Sydney event attracts too many “tyre kickers”, whereas the considerable cost of exhibiting in Germany is paid back through sales.

Toshiba product manager Laurie White says the fuel cells, photos of which were on show to lucky journalists in Auckland, aren’t yet ready for production, but will be next year. While the sub-notebook example measures 275mm x 75mm x 40mm and weighs almost 1kg, sugar cube-size models are in testing.

The fuel cells run on cartridges of methylated spirits; a 100ml example today will power a sub-notebook for about 10 hours. White says early production versions, which will add about $2000 to the cost of a notebook PC, will provide three days of continuous power. Versions that run for a month or more are envisaged. Warm, moist air is the only byproduct of the cells.

Whittard couldn’t resist a dig about New Zealand’s looming power crisis in promoting the virtues of the fuel cells. With Toshiba expecting notebooks to begin to make up half of all PC sales this year, fuel cells could reduce the country’s power needs, Whittard says.

“New Zealand’s got a power problem – let’s not joke about it.”

Other technology which Toshiba displayed in Germany but which it is just showing photos of here includes flexible screens and “organic” diplays. The organic display, shown in a prototype cellphone, uses a synthetic form of a chemical with phosphorescent qualities that is found in dolphins, says White. Its phosphorescence means it doesn’t require backlighting.

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