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Issue #2001 - 35 (August 2001)
(Updated August 29, 2001)


Fuel Cells To Power Next Generation Portable Devices

The promise of 3G handsets delivering high-speed Internet and streaming multimedia services may die a fast death, figuratively and literally, if their power supplies can't keep pace. Case in point, in July, KDDI, Japan's second-largest mobile carrier, issued a recall of close to 600,000 handsets made by Sony because of battery pack defects. The Japanese handset manufactured suffered losses estimated between $159-million and $183,000-million.

With the roll out of 3G services on the horizon, highly reliable handsets are essential for attracting a mass market. Users will demand handsets that are lightweight, yet powerful, with a safe, long-lasting energy source.

Worldwide, scientists in university research labs, military research laboratories as well as private enterprises are working on a commercially viable compact fuel cell that is environmentally friendly and deliver five to 10 times the power of conventional batteries for use in laptops, cell phones, and PDAs.

At the forefront of fuel cell research are Motorola Labs, located in Temple, Arizona, and Medis Technologies, based in New York. Even though both labs are working toward the same goal, each is taking a different route to bring forth the optimal energy source for portable devices.

Motorola Labs
Motorola Labs is a member of the Power and Energy Alliance Consortium, which includes the likes of Honeywell International, Inc., Engines and Systems, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Consortium was recently awarded an eight-year, $49-million cooperative agreement by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in order to simulate scientific research, including fuel cell research.

Motorola Labs, along with other Consortium members, are placing fuel cell research for application in portable devices at the forefront. Scientists at the Motorola Labs have demonstrated a prototype of a ceramic-based microfluidic fuel delivery system for a miniature direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC). To miniaturize the DMFC system, scientists are scaling down components. They have successfully demonstrated the use of a multi-layer ceramic technology for processing and delivering fuel and air to the fuel cell membranes electrode assembly (MEA). This fuel delivery system can be built into a miniature fuel cell.

While it will take several more years before the technology is brought to market, the ceramic fluid-delivery technology will be used to build an integrated 100mW DMFC system, the company says, with the goal of five times the energy density of the conventional Li-lon rechargeable batteries.

Medis Technologies
Medis Technologies was established in 1992 after a joint venture with Israel Aircraft Industries. Medis’ scientists, unlike those at Motorola Labs, work independently of any government or academic institution.

Medis proprietary DLM (direct liquid methanol) fuel cells, which can utilize a broad range of alcohols or mixtures of alcohols, are at the center of its research. The company says that its fuel cells operating on ethanol perform at the highest level of all its methanol fuel cells. Instead of miniaturizing components, Medis scientists have created a special architecture that allows them to scrap proton exchange membranes, or PEMs, which are too bulky and costly for small fuel cell applications. Scientists have developed a proprietary liquid electrolyte that enables ethanol or methanol to be converted directly to electricity, eliminating the need for hydrogen and PEMs.

Medis expects to release its first ethanol-based product, a power pack charger, by early 2003. The fuel-based charger will recharge conventional battery-based cell phones, eliminating the conventional wall socket plug-in method. The power pack will offer 20 hours of recharge time before the cartridge needs replacing.

For more information: http://www.motorola.com http://www.medisel.com

Mobileinfo Comments and Advisory: We may not realize it but one of the most important factors holding back widespread use of wireless is very little attention to battery power requirements of future devices operating at higher network speeds and using powerful processors and accessories. We call upon VCs and  industry giants to divert a part of their preoccupation with wireless silicon and software towards this not-so-sexy area of product innovation. In this light, we are delighted to see some recent news about progress in this somewhat neglected area of our technology. We applaud Motorola to spearhead research in this area. We need to address fuel cell, solar batteries and faster lithium batteries.

Note: This news release may contain forward-looking statements. Readers should take appropriate caution in developing plans utilizing these products, services and technology architectures.  All trademarks used in this summary are the property of their respective owners.

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