The Future Of Laptop & Notebook Computer Batteries

Written by Joy MacKay
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Scientists are fine-tuning an invention that may eventually replace not only those fallible rechargeable batteries but even the recharger. The invention is the fuel cell, a device that may one day sit neatly inside your mobile phone or laptop. It uses the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen to generate a continuous stream of electricity for days on end with no help whatsoever from a battery.

Fuel cells were once seen as future power sources for cars, buses and power stations, but inventors are now proposing them for the subkilowatt world of portable electronics. They may soon come to the aid of soldiers, police officers and even everyday commuters who are weary of the inconvenience of their battery packs, rechargers and spare AA's.

Fuel Cell Battery Technology

Some experts say the latest fuel cells may provide a power source that weighs far less and lasts far longer than any battery on the market, in part because of their efficient use of hydrogen. Of course, the industry will determine if subkilowatt fuel cells will ever make it to the marketplace. Typically, when a new technology comes in an established, well entrenched, heavily invested and profitable marketplace, the chances of it seeing the light of day are slim.

Fuel cells have a simply amazing ability to extract energy from the hydrogen atom. The principle of every hydrogen-based fuel cell is that when hydrogen is joined to oxygen, forming water, energy is produced. The energy takes the form of electricity and some waste heat. The byproducts, depending on the source of the hydrogen, are a bit of water vapor and, often, carbon dioxide, which is vented from the fuel cell.

Give the fuel cells enough hydrogen, plus the oxygen that is provided free in the atmosphere, Dr. Dyer said, and they could power devices like cell phones for days, weeks or even months. The hydrogen that drives these small marvels will probably be provided by methanol, a compound commonly known as wood alcohol that contains hydrogen. A liter of methanol should provide enough electricity to run a laptop for more than a week. A lithium ion battery of comparable volume has a tenth of that energy.

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