Toshiba delays fuel cell

The company shows off the latest version of its fuel cell for portable devices, but problems with the new technology mean it will not be commercially available until 2005.

Toshiba is showing off the latest version of its fuel cell for portable devices, but problems with the new technology mean it will not be commercially available until 2005.

The company's announcement at its demonstration Friday in Japan postpones the release of its fuel cells by a year.

Fuel cells offer the promise of a powerful, long-lasting and very cheap power source in a tiny package. A number of companies have created fuel-cell designs, but none has made it to the production phase.

Toshiba claims its latest attempt at the technology has created a product that is capable of providing an output of 1 watt per hour for approximately 20 hours of operation, using a 25 cubic centimeter 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 one-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 in March at the CeBit trade show in Hannover, Germany. At the time, the company said it expected to have a commercial product ready next year. In September, research firm Allied Business Intelligence published a report predicting that commercial fuel cells would not appear till at least 2004 but that global shipments would reach 200 million units in 2011.

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