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Better Fuel Cells for Laptops:
Adding a chemical found in antifreeze to fuel cells could provide a longer-lasting alternative to batteries in portable electronics

Technology Review, Sep. 13, 2006
By Kate Greene

Batteries are the bane of consumer electronics users. They provide only a limited amount of power, take hours to recharge, and over time become less long-lasting. For years, engineers have been eyeing fuel cells–devices that produce electricity by mixing a fuel with oxygen molecules–as a longer-lasting alternative power supply. But the technology has always encountered hurdles that keep it from being as practical and cost effective as batteries.

Now researchers at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute in Tempe have developed a technique that could help make better fuel cells for laptops, military-grade communication devices, and, potentially, cell phones. In research presented yesterday at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, Dominic Gervasio, associate professor in the Center for Applied Nanobioscience at Arizona State, and his team showed that by adding a chemical found in antifreeze to sodium borohydride–a liquid used to store hydrogen, the molecule that powers fuel cells–they can make a longer-lasting fuel cell. The resulting fuel could power a laptop twice as long as any battery on the market, while allowing room temperature operation, unlike many other fuel cells.

Fuel cells for portable devices have been gaining traction in the past few years as the technology behind them has steadily improved. Indeed, they’ve now reached beyond research labs, and made their way into various forms of production. Millennium Cell, an Eatontown, NJ-based company, supplies fuel cells for military applications. And by year-end, New York-based Medis Technologies plans to offer a consumer fuel cell device designed to instantly recharge standard batteries in cell phones, MP3 players, and laptops.

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