NEC improves notebook fuel cell technology

Smaller prototype is able to generate the same amount of power

TOKYO -- NEC Corp. has reduced the volume of a prototype fuel-cell for notebook computers -- unveiled just over two months ago -- by 20 percent while maintaining the same power output, the Tokyo company said Wednesday.

The company's latest fuel cell was unveiled earlier in the day at the World PC Expo show in Chiba, Japan, said Diane Foley, a spokeswoman for NEC in Tokyo.

"We've been able to make it smaller and more compact, but it is able to generate the same amount of power even though it is smaller," she said.

The fuel cell's size reduction has resulted in a rise in output density. The latest prototype achieves an output density of 50 milliwatts per square centimeter, up 20 percent from the June prototype and is currently the highest in the industry, NEC said in a statement.

Except for the size, precise details of which were not announced, other specifications remain unchanged.

The fuel cell can deliver an average of 14 watts of power with the maximum pegged at 24 watts. Output voltage is 12 volts and the fuel cell weighs 900 grams, of which 300 grams is fuel. Running from a full tank of 300 cubic centimeters of fuel, which is methanol with a concentration of 10 percent, the cell can provide enough power to run a notebook computer for around 5 hours, the Tokyo company said.

NEC is one of a number of companies investigating the possibility of using methanol fuel cells in notebook personal computers and other portable devices.

In June of this year, the company announced plans to commercialize the technology before the end of 2004, adding it hopes to have advanced to a 40-hour fuel cell for notebook computers within two years. On Wednesday NEC reiterated its plans to launch a fuel cell powered notebook by the end of next year and said the 40-hour fuel cell remains a goal to achieve before the end of 2005.

Toshiba Corp. unveiled a prototype fuel cell for notebook computers at the CeBIT 2003 trade show in Germany this year. The company also set a goal to commercialize the technology sometime during 2004.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.