TreeHugger Picks: Fuel Cell Concepts for Laptops

TreeHugger has been watching the hype surrounding fuel cells coming to the marketplace ever since it was but a wee sprout. For the most part, we're still waiting (and hoping) for them to materialize; the (awesome!) notion that we can power stuff without the conventional grid or other "dirty" fuels keeps on hanging on, though. Here are our picks for one of the implementations that makes the most sense: the laptop computer.


1) Almost as big as the Thinkpad it is designed to power, IBM and Sanyo cooked up a methanol-based fuel cell that will run a notebook for up to 8 hours back in 2005. It is even compatible with existing Thinkpads, although not recommended for use on airplanes. Now if Sanyo could just develop a cooker (and, oh yeah, sell the things!) to make methanol at home out of our compost, we'd really have something.

2) Matsushita, a division of Panasonic, unveiled a direct methanol fuel cell in early 2006 that was similar to the one pictured, and smaller and more powerful than comparable models developed to date. At 24 cubic inches, it is about the size of a soda can and about half the size of previous models; it features an average output of 13 watts, a peak output of 20 watts, giving a laptop using this fuel cell up to 20 hours of runtime.

3) By mid-2006, it seemed that things were progressing and that the wait would soon be over, but the news from Toshiba made us think we'd be paying taxes again before buying one of these puppies (and we were right). To date, it had taken about four years to get the pieces of the fuel cell puzzle together; according to Tomoaki Arimura of Toshiba's Methanol Fuel Cell Group, Toshiba was working towards commercialization in 2007...still, we wait. Two more picks, after the jump...


4) The prototypes continue to get smaller, more powerful (though no less commercially available) -- the latest incarnation, from UltraCell, claims two days of laptop life, which is quite an improvement over the 20 hours we saw in the most recent prototype. Sadly, this UltraCell model is still just a prototype, and the military gets the first shot at them once production-ready.

5) For those who think fuel cells will never, ever come to market, there is a bit of good news, thanks to the Fuel Cell Store. Among their offerings is a fully functioning power back up system for that special skeptic who’s worried about a power outage, but also concerned about the noise and carbon monoxide poisoning risk of a conventional generator; we note that the Fuel Cell Store also carries a full line of pure hydrogen models as well.

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