Powering up a laptop with portable liquid fuel? It’s genesis is closer than you might think. The company PolyFuel, which develops fuel cell membranes, recently announced that it has developed a prototype laptop (the Lenova T40 ThinkPad), which uses methanol cartridges and a fuel cell as it’s power source.
Although the working prototype is not an actual finished product, but instead a proof of concept, the company plans to show it off to consumer electronics and PC manufacturers in the coming weeks.
The machine uses what is called a direct methanol fuel cell (or a DMFC) that converts methanol to electricity to run the laptop. The cartridges are approximately the size of a deck of cards, and just one can provide 10 hours of battery life. The company is as yet unwilling to provide images of the prototype, but company President and CEO Jim Balcolm did provide descriptions. He said that the fuel cells bulge out a little more than the nine-cell battery on a Lenova T40, and it raises the laptop a little. However, it is substantially lighter and provides as much run-time as about three lithium-ion batteries.
Backers for the design say they like it since the cartridges are portable and can provide that longer running time. Since manufacturers are very much wanting to find ways to extend battery life for their portable devices, it would be a boon for consumers to have a means to go all day or night without having to carry around an AC adapter. Thus PolyFuel’s strategy to license it’s system design and sell it’s membrane technology to manufacturers.
Although manufacturers estimate that such devices may not end up taking over the entire market, they estimate about ten to thirty percent, even at the niche market of ten percent it would still be considered significant. So, although alternative fuel cells may not be replacing batteries, it looks like they will in fact be a reality in consumer electronics within the next couple of years.