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BBC Tests Pre-Commercial Toshiba Fuel Cell Laptop

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the fill-er-up dept.

138

nbannerman writes "Fuel cells have been talked about a lot recently, but Toshiba have finally demonstrated a working model. The BBC News website provides some interesting background on fuel cells, but does carrying a warning for the future; 'Toshiba's phase one fuel cell shows how near, but also how far, the version is from being a commercial reality.'"

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138 comments

Ready. (1)

cosmotron (900510) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438106)

I'm all set to dish out $6000+ for it.

Re:Ready. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438149)

My cock wants to test your mouth. Please provide:

-Temperature
-Moisture level

As a general rule... (2, Funny)

elliotCarte (703667) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438190)

Dear Tomoaki Arimura (pictured in the linked article), As a general rule, the tip of one's tie should come to about the edge his pants.

Off-topic of course, but I couldn't help it. Is he trying to polish his shoes with that thing, or...? Sorry, mod me down if you really need to.

Oh, fuel cells are cool. Your car wants one.

Re:As a general rule... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15439214)

That's how Japanese manage their ties, it's to ehm, make it very obvious that they have huge genitalia.

A gas powered laptop! (1)

Sillygates (967271) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438626)

Hmm...a gas powered laptop! great! When will this energy efficient improvement hit the automobile market....oh....wait....

I guess fuelcell is a little bit better than regular gas engines, but what is wrong with batteries? (electricity can be made in bulk, cutting waste, and hell, they could create that with fuelcell technology.

Re:A gas powered laptop! (2, Interesting)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439091)

what is wrong with batteries?

Two words: energy density. There is no battery technology currently available or in development, that I know of, which approaches the energy density of petrochemicals or methanol, and probably of compressed hydrogen as well. So there is a lot of interest in producing a compact power source which runs on a high-density fuel, because you could increase the capacity of the computer's power source beyond what would be practical on batteries.

Right now, it seems like in laptops you have two choices: you can either get the very small ones that have decent battery life (iBooks, Sony Vaio, probably others), or you can get those huge, hot-as-Hades "tabletop" notebooks that really only have batteries to keep them from shutting down while you're carrying them from one outlet to the next. I don't think I'm the only one who would be really interested in getting my hands on a desktop replacement with good (6-8 hours real usage, by which I mean heavy HD and optical I/O, constant WLAN usage, maximum brightness screen and headphone audio use) battery life, especially if I could take it to places that don't have electricity available and "recharge" it with some sort of compressed-gas or fuel canisters. Or have a compact laptop with a smaller screen and less bells and whistles that ran for days or weeks on a single fueling. You're not going to get to either of those goals with current battery technology (unless you want to hire a sherpa to carry your spares around).

Personally I find the Toshiba thing pretty exciting. My big turn-off would be that I wouldn't want to buy a first-generation device that used some sort of strange vendor-specific refill. I've had too many bad experiences in the past where you get the first generation of something that requires a steady supply of consumable parts, and after a year or two the manufacturer stops making them, and you're SOL. I hope that in all this work that Toshiba, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Samsung and Sanyo are doing together, they've invented a standard refill for these things: when it gets to the point where the refills are either widely available from a single manufacturer or less-easily from a variety of manufacturers (who aren't directly affiliated with the maker of the principal device), then count me in.

Re:A gas powered laptop! (2, Insightful)

Tolookah (837210) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439572)

The big problem with fuel cells is that the real big reason to have a mobile laptop is travel, and there is no way airlines are going to let people get on a plane with fuel, something about explosives...

I don't know if the laptop companies are thinking about this, but I tend to travel alot by plane with my laptop, and the fuel cells are probably quite dangerous in the wrong hands.

Re:A gas powered laptop! (1)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439803)

Listerine is like 30% ethanol anyway. Would anyone really notice if you had a small listerine bottle filled with more pure stuff?

I don't think fuel cells will let you carry on anything you couldn't carry on anyway.

Re:A gas powered laptop! (1)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439926)

I doubt very much that they're any more dangerous than a cigarette lighter. Probably less so, if they use a liquid fuel (methanol) instead of a compressed flammable gas, or a liquid fuel that's pressurized with an inert gas. A bottle of methanol isn't any more dangerous than a bottle of alcohol-based aftershave, high-proof liquor, or spray deodorant. I could imagine that you might not be able to bring the refills on in your carryon baggage, but I'm willing to bet that if they became ubiquitous, being able to take one on a plane is enough of a selling point (both for the airline and the laptop manufacturer) that I'm pretty confident the regulations would be worked out to allow the cells themselves in the cabin, perhaps empty.

Refulling issue? (2, Insightful)

Kenja (541830) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438111)

Am I the only one that dosn't want to be wandering around town looking for a means to refull my notebook? The only use I can think of for these things is a flash charger for my existing battery.

Go with Apple. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438147)

Just go with an Apple notebook if you want fantastic battery life. Their G4-based laptops have battery lives in excess of six hours, and that's with fairly heavy, continuous use.

I have friends who only check their email three or four times a day. Their Apple laptops can literally go a month between charges, since they're suspended to disk between checks.

Some executives at the firm recently bought Dell laptops. I have heard them complain about how short the battery life is. They're talking an hour and a half for some of the notebooks. I would have thought it was a battery problem, but basically all of the executives, even those with completely different models, complained of the same problem.

spindly arms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438231)

That's because no one wants to carry laptops as heavy as they were 5 or 10 years ago. If they just maintained weight parity, with advances in computing tech, you could gave REAL decent batteries in them, probably two of them internal, but, modern execs and leet cafe trendy laptop carriers are *too wussy* to carry anything "heavy" like that anymore.

No, I am not kidding either, this is the obvious and relatively cheap solution to short range batteries, just make them bigger. You can have one or the other with todays tech, 3 lb or less laptops or decent batteries, choose one.

Re:spindly arms (2, Insightful)

MrSquirrel (976630) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438315)

Working at a University helpdesk, I saw a looooot of laptops... all shapes and sizes, young and old. Battery technology has progressed a long way -- but there's only so far it can be pushed. I find the best way to have a long battery life in a modern laptop is to NOT have a giant screen. Too many companies are sticking huge screens on laptops -- adding on to weight AND power consumption. Leave the huge screens to desktops please. As for the Dell laptops having short battery life? I'm guessing they are P4 laptops (Dell's lappy's only use Intel chips) -- the processor is a main determinant in battery life. P4's are energy hogs -- Intel's Centrino is more longevity friendly (and the new Yonah chip... WOW!). AMD has some good high-efficiency chips as well. When looking for a laptop, decide what you really need -- if it's a desktop replacement, go for the huge screen and whatever you want, but if you NEED a laptop to do work on the go (i.e. you can't plug-in), choose something with a reasonably sized screen, an efficient processor, and most importantly -- a second bay for an extra battery.

Re:spindly arms (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438478)

i fully agree .. here at work we use Averatec laptops (they are made by MSI/TwinHead)

we only use the 12in 4lbs models - they get ~3 hours of battery life.. and a spare battery is only around 80$ the laptop around 700$ so all in all sure they could pay 2g's for a laptop with 6 hours of life.. or we can buy cheep (but decent and rugged) laptops and a spare battery for much less.. and if they destroy them (which some have done) i don't feel as bad.

i know people who have bought dell and alienware laptops.. sure they are nice and can play games and stuff.. but they can also start fires in your lap and have crap battery life... When it comes to companys you don't need all the frills.. just decent speed - lots of storage and decent life..

Re:Go with Apple. (0, Flamebait)

xouumalperxe (815707) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438945)

Bullshit. So much bullshit, in fact, I don't even know what your point is. I have a last-generation iBook 12". It has a rather friendly battery life of about 4h30 under "normal use", which means screen brightness set to a bit over half, airport on, and working with Vim, while Safari and Mail are open in the background (actually, lots more stuff open in the background, but those are the only two applications that MIGHT consume CPU resources and hence drain battery life a bit more -- namely I rarely use iTunes while using my laptop on battery power, I'd rather use my iPod). Those six hours they purportedly last is what Apple announces, and you KNOW that's under "better than optimal" conditions.

If I use the iBook as a glorified iPod (just iTunes playing while I study, the screen going out because there's no input), it'll rise to about 5h30. Yes, that battery is working fully, with a full charge holding slightly more than nominal capacity (4411 mAh rather than 4400 mAh, according to coconut battery)

No, the iBook CAN'T go months on end without being charged, unless you turn it off. Even then, that's bad practice that'll damage the battery eventually. I find the iBook consumes around 1% battery capacity per day, as they DO NOT suspend to disk. They just power down unused components, and kind of suspend to RAM. Kind of being the keyword here -- disc defrag happens while they're suspended, if you leave them connected via ethernet to a router and have an SSH connection to somewhere they reportedly keep the connection alive (reportedly -- I've never tried it myself), etc. Newer PowerBooks (and, I assume, the MacBooks), will copy the contents of their RAM to HDD to protect them from battery failures, however.

All in all, you're misrepresenting the Macs, and I have to wonder why. They're quality hardware. Quality hardware doesn't need positive misrepresenting, as its value speaks for itself. Building false expectations can only lead to disappointment.

Re:Refulling issue? (2, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438291)

What do you do when your battery fails now?
Thats right, wander around until you find fuel(a.h.a Electricity)

Re:Refulling issue? (1)

Kenja (541830) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438715)

if you have a hard time finding a power outlet, there's just no helping you.

I dont wander around looking for an outlet, there's three right next to my desk.

Re:Refulling issue? (1)

Fred_A (10934) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438944)

Sometimes you need a laptop that can run on camel droppings, or wood, or very small rocks, or gravy, or a church... or...

A duck !

Sorry, got carried away there...

Re:Refulling issue? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438553)

60 years ago...

"Am I the only one that doesn't want to be driving around town looking for a means to refuel my gas tank? The only use I can think of for these things is a diesel generator for my cabin in the woods."

moonshine battery? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438140)

It is only a matter of time before some dry county distillers catch on to the idea, which will bring the whole new meaning to the term 'drinking and [hard]driving'.

Ha ha ha ha ha! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438244)

Don't quit your day job.

Re:moonshine battery? (1)

gijoel (628142) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439439)

[freeze frame of Bo and Luke Duke bent over a laptop]

Well now, Bo and Luke Duke have to do a system upgrade and their laptop's fuel cell is lower than a gator's belly. And what with Boss Hogg tying up all of the ethanol in Hazzard county, these boys are in a bit of a pickle.

10 Hours (2, Interesting)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438148)

A small, plastic, brick-shaped 100 millilitre cartridge with methanol fuel that looks like an ink-jet printer cartridge

probably costs like an ink-jet printer cartridge too. But all it has to be is 'the best' and a certain class will be lining up to buy carts at $49.95 a pop, on company expense (think petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries).

Cost should be an issue (1)

aplusjimages (939458) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438504)

That's exactley what I thought as well. Cost is something that needs to be convenient as well. These things would have to sell for real cheap in order for people to find it economical. I see this only being an extra power supply not a replacement.

Just the thing to use in First Class Seating (5, Funny)

SockPuppet_9_5 (645235) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438176)

Try getting THAT through airport security.

Re:Just the thing to use in First Class Seating (1)

Ossifer (703813) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438206)

Exactly. Where am I going to be that I need this? Even 3rd class airline seats are coming with power slots for laptops, etc. Everywhere else I have computed in the past 10 years hasn't been very far from an electric outlet...

Re:Just the thing to use in First Class Seating (1)

flobberchops (971724) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439427)

3rd class? Whatever happened to the 9th class crammage like the Titanic. So much for a classless society.

Re:Just the thing to use in First Class Seating (1)

sarlos (903082) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438287)

This was my first thought as well. Hopefully there is some option for detaching the fuel cell battery and popping in a traditional lithium battery for travel purposes. The main use I can see for this technology anyway is military in nature. If this delivers the duration they claim, it would be perfect for units in the field.

It's also a matter of availability (1)

ickeicke (927264) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438511)

Fuel cell laptops might last longer, but I'd think that electricity is a lot better available in most parts of the world than methanol (electricity is already needed for a lot of things in "the field" and besides, a few spare batteries for a laptop are not the militaries most hard to get resource.

Re:It's also a matter of availability (1)

sarlos (903082) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438706)

The Energy Density [wikipedia.org] of a Lithium ion Battery is .54-.72 MJ/kg. Compare that to methanol, which is 22.61 MJ/kg. In layman's terms, you get vastly more energy out of an equal size amount of methanol fuel. Now, you still have to factor in the size of the fuel cell, but carrying around 1 fuel cell with a tank of methanol is still preferable to carrying around 10 batteries! Also note that I'm not talking about field bases with generators available.

Should not be the main criterium (1)

ickeicke (927264) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439044)

Good point, but obviously the energy density should not be the criterium, otherwise we might as well use the binding energy of helium [wikipedia.org] (675,000,000 MJ/kg).

Efficiency, heat production and ease of transport and storing should be equal factors. And since lithium ion batteries have been around for much longer, I assume things like efficiency are better.

But I look forward to see these alternative sources of energy become better and more common via the usual vicious circle; things become better->they become more common->they become better (research becomes more profitable)->the become cheaper->they become more common->etc.

Re:Should not be the main criterium (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15439581)

What's your point? Seriously. It's pretty damn obvious the O.P. was refering to the density of feasibly extractable energy. Your comment added nothing to the discussion.

Re:Just the thing to use in First Class Seating (1)

br0ck (237309) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438699)

Try getting THAT through airport security.

Perhaps it would be easier if they used ethanol fuel cells [physicsweb.org] as you could just board the plane with no fuel and then order a vodka or gin and pour it right in. (The real fun would begin when the lady in the next seat looks over in alarm and you just say, "Well, the poor little bugger doesn't like to fly, so I'm just giving him a little something to calm his nerves.")

How it works (4, Informative)

ylikone (589264) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438203)

Fuel cells electrochemically convert fuel into electricity, without bothering with the awkward combustion process that dooms regular engines to inefficiency. The fuel that most currently workable fuel cells run on is hydrogen, which is a bit of a pain to store and transport. A device called a "reformer" can be used to convert methanol and water (much easier to store) into carbon dioxide and hydrogen, but reformer-based fuel cells aren't very efficient, and small models for portable electronic devices are less efficient still. "Direct methanol" fuel cells (DMFCs), on the other hand, run from un-reformed methanol. DMFCs are the things most likely to end up in your laptop or mobile phone. Learn more about fuel cells. [tinyurl.com]

Huge (2, Insightful)

Tx (96709) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438210)

In terms of volume, it is around a litre and weighs about as much as the same measure of water.

I actually thought they were a lot closer than this. From the photo, it actually looks larger than a litre, I'd say closer to 1.4. In any case, fucking huge, and nowhere near practical. They need to shrink it by more than an order of magnitude to be workable.

Re:Huge (1)

TopSpin (753) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438283)

I actually thought they were a lot closer than this.

I'm not surprised; fuel cell hype is rampant. It's a worthy pursuit but quite a way from actual consumer sales.

That rather large device shown here is good for 10 hours running a pretty average laptop. The next generation prototype shown is a bit better, and just as unworkable for the bulk of the laptop market; too damn big.

These are prototypes; give it half a decade of development and it could pay off.

Re:Huge (1)

TopShelf (92521) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438368)

Yeah, but have you considered the bonus of being able to use such a battery for self-defense purposes if necessary? You could probably put a good dent in an assailant's skull with that thing...

"practical" is relative (1)

kaan (88626) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438536)

In any case, fucking huge, and nowhere near practical.

Totally agree with you - I am not about to trade in my laptop for a different computer that has a 1 liter (or larger) fuel canister attached to it. Most of the /. crowd are probably in agreement on this.

But you know who might find it practical? Anyone in the middle of nowhere, away from electric outlets, away from plugs. Field researchers, for instance, could really benefit from something like this. And powering your laptop or cell phone with a fuel cell is a much more efficient use of energy than plugging a 12-volt adapter into an electric generator.

Re:Huge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438642)

Dude, remember the first electronic computers? They have been shrinking by several orders of magnitude for the last 50 years. Why should a first-gen methanol fuel cell undergo the same process? Molecular manufacturing will help us with that :)

Yeah, but what's really cool... (2, Funny)

lottameez (816335) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438211)

..is that with a small adapter, you could use it to toast marshmallows at work. :-P

huhmnnhuhhmhh ....marrssssshhhhhmmaaaallloooowwwsssss...huhmnhuh

Re:Yeah, but what's really cool... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438238)

You're not funny.

Re:Yeah, but what's really cool... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438314)

Your joke FRICKING SUCKS. Never post a joke again cause they SUCK.

Re:Yeah, but what's really cool... (2, Funny)

Masa (74401) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438496)

huhmnnhuhhmhh ....marrssssshhhhhmmaaaallloooowwwsssss...huhmnhuh

Dear God! What are you doing with those marshmallows? Having sex with them? You sick bastard!

Safety and technology (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438233)

One of the things that jumped out at me was the thought "wow, this thing is very dependant on technology just to be safe!". From the article:

The fuel cell is loaded with sensors. When suddenly picked up and shaken, anti-tamper sensors lock down the fuel cell to avoid leaks.

As it produces heat from the reaction, internal sensors make sure that it does not overheat.


What of the odds of those various sensors failing (and you know that they will for someone, somewhere) and what kinds of damage is caused when they do?

Re:Safety and technology (2, Insightful)

x1n933k (966581) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438513)

Think about some of the lighters that use butane and other chemicals we tend to carry in our pockets or stuff into a car on a sunny day. With nothing more than a label warning on a box you threw out the moment you opened it.

If you read up on the method on how the cells work and other technology it may or may not put more confidence in you. Besides, systems fail and dangerous stuff is often carelessly misplaced or misused (I once discovered a Sidewinder missle on a beach). They're going to make it as sound as possible for now and if it isn't safe or screws up then people get hurt or die, such is the process of invention and exploration.

[J]

Re:Safety and technology (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438556)

That's because people are paranoid whackos. At least most of them.

Suppose this thing had a catastrophic failure. You might get a bit of liquid on your pants. It will feel a bit cool and if you wait a few minutes it will all evaporate leaving no trace.

As for spilling it on your laptop, if you do so consider it an opportunity to wipe the grime buildup off your keyboard. You know all those expensive cleaning solutions? Guess what's in many of them.

Re:Safety and technology (1)

mobby_6kl (668092) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438653)

>"wow, this thing is very dependant on technology just to be safe!"

You should be hiding under your bed now, shaking, because this isn't very different from the modern lithium-ion batteries:

The rechargable lithium-ion battery required nearly 20 years of development before it was safe enough to be used on a mass market level

and

Since the lithium metal [...] is very reactive and might cause explosion, Li-ion cells usually have built-in protective electronics and/or fuses to prevent polarity reversal, over-voltage and over-heating.

Read the rest of the article here [wikipedia.org]

Re:Safety and technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15439853)

You should be hiding under your bed now, shaking, because this isn't very different from the modern lithium-ion batteries:

I know it's not like you don't hear about li-ion batteries catching fire (cell phones and laptops). AAMOF, that's precisely what triggered the alarm bells in my head "oh great, yet another power source that will depend on lots of tech to not melt/explode/burn/cause-a-worm-hole-to-another-dim ension".

Re:Safety and technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438820)

And do you think that the current system (lithium ion batteries) doesn't depend on technology do be safe?

If you charge a Li-ion battery above 4.3 volts per cell, it explodes.
If you discharge a Li-ion battery below 3.6 volts per cell it explodes.
If you discharge a Li-ion battery at too high of a current it explodes.
If you charge a Li-ion at too high of a current, it explodes.
If the battery's caseing is breached it explodes.
If the battery gets too hot it explodes.

And what do you think keeps this from being a regular occurence? Safety circuitry built into the battery, just like the fuel cell.

And, in retrospect "explodes" is probabably a bad word to describe what happens to a Li-ion battery, it more like a venting of flame and really hot gases from the electrolyte as it burns. Still not something you want to be near when it happens.

Forget about (2, Funny)

The_Isle_of_Mark (713212) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438264)

Forget about ever taking one of thes eon an airplane. Methanol is a self oxygenating liquid, I believe, so it is very volatile.
Explain that to the airport police..."Really, it is a liquid fuel for my LAPTOP! Ow, that rubber glove doesn't help much for pain does it?"

Re:Forget about (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438487)

They let you take alcohol on board. Not a lot of difference, really. Except that the alcohol usually comes in a bottle that, when broken, makes an excellent weapon. Far better than, say, an exacto-knife (box cutter in the US).

Re:Forget about (1)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438969)

I was blocked from taking a plastic Slurpee cup through security because it might contain an acidic or poisonous fluid -- even though I was drinking from it at the time. I was told that I should go and buy a bottled drink from one of the stores in the airport if I wanted to take a beverage on the plane.

Re:Forget about (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439054)

They are kind of wild with the rules, aren't they? I've never had trouble in Canada but when I go to the States two random search stations within sight of each other have actually BOTH searched my bags.

Still, security is fine with hassling individuals, but they don't like to get too uptight with the real paying customers (business people).

Here is a picture of it during boot up (3, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438271)

Re:Here is a picture of it during boot up (1)

iggymanz (596061) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438569)

ah, just like the cooling fan exhaust port of any laptop with "Intel Inside"

Re:Here is a picture of it during boot up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15439464)

Protip: URL redirection services such as Tinyurl.com or the highly ironic makeashorterlink.com or can help you get the most bang for your buck with unexpected link jokes.

'Hybrid' laptops? (1)

Mathiasdm (803983) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438294)

So... Is anybody planning to make some kind of hybrid, that has both a battery and a fuel cell?

In case you guys aren't planning to do so... Patent pending!

Re:'Hybrid' laptops? (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438568)

You know i was thinking something close..

you use the meth as a energy storage medium (as it has a higher energy density than Li) it would buffer power through a capasitor to power the laptop but if you plug it in it back charges and converts the waste back in to meth for use later - just like how we use Li batteries

i am sorry but if i can't plug this thing into an outlet to charge it - it is well worthless

Amp hours per Kg? (2, Insightful)

cdavies (769941) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438312)

The thing looks pretty big and heavy, I wonder how a similar size/weight Lithium Ion battery would stack up against it. Is the new technology really better at the moment?

Summary: Not Practical :( (3, Insightful)

smug_lisp_weenie (824771) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438313)

This fuel cell system weighs as much and is as large as a 1 Liter bottle of water... and gives 10 hours of charge?!

Clearly you could have a Lithium ion battery that lasts many more (20? 30?) hours at the same size...

...and clearly there has not been any marked for a notebook with a clunky battery- The closest thing to a laptop ever released which emphasizes battery power over weight is the Electrovaya Scribbler [electrovaya.com]- I have the 300 model and can get well over 10 hours out of it!

Maybe by the 3rd generation (and a decade from now) it will be able to compete with standerd batteries, assuming standard batteries haven't improved by then this technology might be worth a second look (which is unfortunately a possiblity, given the slow progress in battery technology)...

Re:Summary: Not Practical :( (1)

jonnythan (79727) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438397)

But....

What do you do when your 10-hour Li-ion battery runs out and you're nowhere close to a power source for the next 3 days?

Would you rather carry 10 of those 5-lb batteries, or one 5-lb fuel cell station and 10 ink jet cartridges?

Re:Summary: Not Practical :( (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438489)

I put the laptop away and enjoy the beach?

Re:Summary: Not Practical :( (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438419)

"The closest thing to a laptop ever released which emphasizes battery power over weight"

You haven't seen the Mac Portable [wikipedia.org] (with lead-acid batteries) or an eMate [ac-scanmac.dk].

Re:Summary: Not Practical :( (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438430)

I don't think you critically read the article.

Although the non-consumable portion of the fuel cell does make up some considerable bulk, the 10 hour runtime was generated by only 100mL of fuel.

Put simply, by carrying a soda can-sized refill of methanol, there would be plenty of energy to run for over 40 hours.

If they made this device as a modular power source with 12V output, it could easily be used right now with your choice of energy-efficient devices. I personally could envision using this device to power a camera while filming in wilderness areas: the weight of the fuel cell would be minor compared to other equipment and the overall efficiency (compared to batteries) only goes up with the more fuel you pack.

Re:Summary: Not Practical :( (2, Funny)

0110011001110101 (881374) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438687)

hello,

welcome to slashdot, you are apparently new here.

I don't think you critically read the article.

People here don't even read the articles, much less in a critical fashion.

Maybe you are not new here, and instead just confused. People here are very often critical of the articles that they have not even read... if so, please disregard my email, if not, please add me to your newsletter.

Re:Summary: Not Practical :( (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438451)

How much do you think the cartridge ways? I can take along another 9 cartridges, and have 10 times the charge. Even if the batteries hold double, how much will 4 extra batteries way?

Re:Summary: Not Practical :( (1)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438631)

But you can recharge the fuel cell by pouring in some ethanol or whatever you bought from a store whereas you have to plug the lithion battery in for three hours. That is the benefit of a fuel cell, really.

Re:Summary: Not Practical :( (1)

TrekkieGod (627867) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439504)

But you can recharge the fuel cell by pouring in some ethanol or whatever you bought from a store whereas you have to plug the lithion battery in for three hours. That is the benefit of a fuel cell, really.

No, that's the problem with fuel cells. You have to go out and buy stuff, whereas you can just plug in your laptop when you're not away from a socket (and power sockets are everywhere). You can use that laptop while it's recharging, you know.

Re:Summary: Not Practical :( (1)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439948)

Unless you are using your laptop as a laptop or as a business traveler. Because if you have ready access to AC all the time, battery life may not be your most important concern.

Re:Summary: Not Practical :( (1)

Rekolitus (899752) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439643)

Not it if it ends up like ink cartridges, where you pay a lot more for a lot less because you have no alternative, what with vendor lockin and all.

Perhaps I'm just being pessimistic, but I don't see any reason this won't go the way of ink cartridges.

Battery technology (1)

dj245 (732906) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438812)

Maybe by the 3rd generation (and a decade from now) it will be able to compete with standerd batteries, assuming standard batteries haven't improved by then this technology might be worth a second look (which is unfortunately a possiblity, given the slow progress in battery technology)...

Battery technology isn't getting better anytime soon. We've gone from lead to zinc to lithium metals in an attemt to get the most electrochemical potential for the least amount of space/weight. But we're out of periodic table. Lithium is the best metal there is for batteries, if you care about weight and power density. Barring any huge advances in electrolytes (and we're rapidly going through all the posibilities of those too) the best we can hope for from batteries is a steady 5% improvement per year.

Re:Summary: Not Practical :( (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438869)

A Li-Ion battery and matching charge controller/charge system that size would probably cost you about $5,000, too. I met this scraggly lookin' guy (looks like a BOFH of yore, actually) here in Lake County who claims to have designed the Corbin Sparrow, and he says he's got one that's got water-cooled LiIon batteries... And it's $45,000 worth of Lithium-Ion.

Re:Summary: Not Practical :( (1)

GoRK (10018) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439171)

Sure a lithium battery as big as a couple bricks would last a very long time; however when you figure that it runs for 10 hours on 100mL of methanol and you can also pack in a 3L bottle of the stuff with your gear and run for 2 solid weeks it makes the fuel cell very attractive for certain applications.

Why someone is not producing these for laptops even at their current size if they actually work seems absolutely insane to me.

Fuel cells for laptops already available (1)

homm2 (729109) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438402)

If you can't wait until they release this thing, you can always try this [engadget.com].

Re:Fuel cells for laptops already available (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438867)

Um, if you actually read your own link, that's vaporware too. Quote: "we're gonna have to continue wearing the skeptic's hat and hoping for a real product and not just a whole lot of hydrocarbon-free smoke, so to speak.

Re:Fuel cells for laptops already available (1)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439375)

That one is for military use, so expect it to weigh in at 100lb or more... ;)

I wonder.. (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438548)

Think of the multilayered implications of referring to something based on the chemical properties of distilled methanol and water "vaporware."

Doesn't look promising (3, Insightful)

cartman (18204) | more than 7 years ago | (#15438614)

Fuel cells have been promised for a long time now. As an example, I remember that a production fuel-cell car was promised by Mercedes to be available in showrooms by 2001...then 2004...then 2007...then 2009... And we still wait. And there are other examples: laptop makers have also repeatedly promised that fuel cells are right around the corner, with similar results.

It appears increasingly unlikely that fuel cells will ever happen. Although fuel cell technology continues to improve, the improvement is very gradual. It's not clear that fuel cells are progressing faster than new battery technology, in which case the two will never converge.

I should also note that the fuel cartridge (100ml) by itself, which powers the laptop for 10 hours, is not that much smaller than a battery. Even if toshiba drastically shrank the size of the surrounding electronics, making the entire cell the same size as a battery, it still would have no advantage. You would still have to carry around extra fuel cartridges (with methanol) for additional power.

Bear in mind that you wouldn't be able to recharge the cartridge by just pouring in more methanol, or buying new fuel cartridges at a convenience store. Methanol is extremely poisonous even in very small amounts, and medically significant amounts are absorbed through the skin. Therefore the fuel cartridges will require expensive and durable equipment to prevent the leakage of any fuel whatsoever when removed from the laptop. Probably the fuel cartridges will be expensive and will have to be recycled and disposed of properly.

Re:Doesn't look promising (1)

boojit (256278) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439389)

Same article, circia 1884

Automobiles have been promised for a long time now. As an example, I remember that a production automobile was promised by Benz to be available in showrooms by 1880...then 1882...then 1883...then 1885... And we still wait.

It appears increasingly unlikely that automobiles will ever happen. Although automobile technology continues to improve, the improvement is very gradual. It's not clear that automobiles are progressing faster than new steam technology, in which case the two will never converge.

I should also note that the automobile by itself is not that much faster than a horse and buggy. Even if Benz drastically increased the power of the automobile it still would have no advantage. You would still have to carry around extra fuel for additional power, because there are no gas stations.

Bear in mind that you wouldn't be able to refuel the automobile by just pouring in more petroleum. Petroleum is extremely poisonous even in very small amounts, and medically significant amounts are absorbed through the skin. Therefore the automobiles will require expensive and durable equipment to prevent the leakage of any fuel whatsoever. Probably the fuel tanks will be expensive and will have to be recycled and disposed of properly.

the point is: have a little bit of vision

--booj

Re:Doesn't look promising (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439781)

I've used solar cell arrays for portable engineering laptops as well, the only problem is they add to weight and work best if they don't get scratched. The ethanol you describe could be made at farms that produce biodiesel as well - I believe some states provide subsidies (low-interest capital cost loans to build them and tax breaks) to do so, other than my state (Washington) where I know it's been signed into law by the Governor. But methanol or ethanol both can be used to power laptops.

Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15438845)

FTFA: "In terms of volume, it is around a litre and weighs about as much as the same measure of water. "

Why can't people just say ITS A FREAKIN KILOGRAM. When are people outside of the U.S. going to start understanding the metric system.

For all of you complaining... (1)

phobos13013 (813040) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439075)

that this thing is too bulky, or too expensive, or not abusive enough from its petrol-consuming counterparts (yes electricity is petrol-consuming, not directly but indirectly, of course), i wait for the day when either the cost of your electricity is $1000s for your home and car because the supply has diminished to such a level there is hardly any left in the world anyway or we are so overwhelmed by the effects of globalwarming that we cannot go outside except in Tyvek suits and assisted-breating apparati and the use of such materials are banned. This will be so vogue and desired, i hope you guys (and gals, theres females on here right) are kicking yourself in the ass for complaing.

Re:For all of you complaining... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15439209)

You are either
A) being sarcastic
B) severly brainwashed by all the bullshit these tree huggers are trying to shove down our throats
or
C) just plain stupid

please let it be A :)

mod* up (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15439103)

Development. BSD [samag.com] in the b8illiant plan OF AMERICA) is the we all know, spot when done For up today! If you so on, FreeBSD went can no longer be Rival distribution,

windup (2, Interesting)

zogger (617870) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439119)

I sort of like the idea of a crank or windup clockwork spring generator for additional electrical supply, like the MIT laptop was originally supposed to have. If it is spring and clockwork, you don't have to wind for a long time, my baygen/freeplay [freeplayenergy.com] radios (they have flashlights, too) you can wind completely up in less than a minute, then they give 30 minutes radio. I know it wouldn't last as long with a laptop, but it would be *some* emergency power as your battery started to go. There's even a foot powered generator you could get, throw it on the floor and just a slow pumping action acts as a generator, leaving your hands free and not bothering the computer. Something like this, perhaps a bit beefier the Stepcharger [aladdinpower.com]

How to stop the fuel cell laptop user in a crowd (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439647)

He's the guy to whom the girl says: "Is that a fuel-cell laptop you're using, or are you just happy to see me".

How to spot the fuel cell laptop user in a crow (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439748)

dang, messed up the headline, meant spot, not stop - sorry, I meant to say:

He's the guy to whom the girl says: "Is that a fuel-cell laptop you have, or are you just happy to see me?"

FuelSell Power (2, Interesting)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439718)

"size, noise and weight"

The noise from the fuelcell will disappear when microfluidics are used to pump the fuel and exhaust. That will also drop the size (volume), and even the weight. Though 0.792 specific gravity methanol will weigh about 792g (1.75lbs) in the liter capacity, so the total cell will probably continue to weigh about the same. Which is a lot less than the weight of 10h in electric batteries.

A really interesting gain could come from integrating the cell reservoir with the rest of the volume of the entire notebook. Fill the spaces currently filled with air with fuel (protected of course by a tough insulating/nonflammable layer), and the overall volume of the notebook could remain about the same, especially considering the airfilled shockbarrier protecting LCDs. Clever engineering could circulate the waste heat in the fuel, much as modern car fuelpumps are cooled by the gas in the tank in which they sit. Really clever engineering could harness the waste heat to circulate the fuel not just to the heat exchangers, but also through the pump, for efficiency increase (and heat reduction).

I expect that Toshiba is already testing its microfluidics version privately. PR like the BBC review will generate excitement for even a clunky first introduction. A quiet, smaller, lighter introduction will exceed those expectations and increase sales with even better reviews.

Maybe the improvements will only come out from up Toshiba's sleeve gradually. They might patent them early, then introduce them to pump their sales curves. I don't believe they will introduce a noisy fuelcell as early as 6 months from now, so they surely have more than they're demo'ing. Which gives me more confidence that they're going to pull this one off.

Now if it will just run on sake, and give massages, Toshiba will have retaken the "Personal Computer" from the dull interpreters who have made it a boring commodity.

An affordable technology! (2, Informative)

westcoaster004 (893514) | more than 7 years ago | (#15439776)

This is really great. Because it runs on methanol, it's going to be fairly affordable [google.com] (at least for short trips to places without any electrical power and potentially very easy to refill - Methanol is also sold as "Wood Alcohol" at your local hardware store. The only real question is the concentration. Most DMFCs [wikipedia.org] (Direct Methanol Fuel Cells) need the methanol to be watered down. The best that I've seen are 99.5% (it had to use a means of recycling the water produced, as the methanol feed can't be more than 70% for electrochemical reasons otherwise) and 20-30%, however in research one generally is trying for 10% at best (I've done 3 work terms of research in fuel cell technologies - as a chemist). Usually at such high concentrations the methanol starts to seep across the polymer membrane, and cutting the voltage. It's one of the big problems with DMFCs, as having to dilute the methanol means that the reservoir gets bigger and more inconvenient. So they might not be too keen to let people mix their own...

Toshiba's fuel cell news is a little old [toshiba.co.jp], still, it's great that they're finally getting it out and available for the public. I'm surprised though that they're using one with so many moving parts - I would think that a microfluidics [wikipedia.org] approach would work too. But personally I'd love to take one apart to see how they have their membrane electrode assembly [wikipedia.org] with its proton exchange membrane [wikipedia.org]

The question is going to be whether, like some inkjet printers, others will be able to make cheaper versions of the refilling cartriges. After all, they're just holding methanol and water - not very dangerous, or explosive, and the flammability is fairly low - but drink it and you might go blind. Their expressed concern in the article is smoking and fuming when overheating, but unless it's 100% methanol, or the cell had a very high power output (with lots of heat being generated), I couldn't see it being a problem. Even in the lab I've never seen methanol smoke - it just boils or evaporates very quickly.

One question to those who know more about computers than me: how much power does an average laptop use? I'm curious to work out what kind of efficiency they're getting with their cells.
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