NTT DoCoMo shows prototype cell phone fuel cell

NTT DoCoMo shows prototype cell phone fuel cell

NTT DoCoMo Inc. and Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd. have developed a prototype fuel cell that will be used as a battery recharger in mobile phones in Japan in 2006, the companies announced Thursday.

The companies are also developing a fuel cell battery that will slot into mobile phones, replacing today's lithium-ion batteries, and that they expect to put in mobile phones in or after 2007, Kazuhiko Takeno, manager of DoCoMo's consumer equipment development department, said on Thursday.

The recharger uses direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) technology. When a thumb-sized cartridge containing 18 cubic centimeters of methanol at a concentration of 30 percent is slotted in, the recharger can provide an output of 5.4 volts at 700 milliamperes, according to DoCoMo.

In practice, this will recharge the cell phone battery so that it can be used continuously for two hours, said Takeno.

The prototype recharger unit is composed of a cradle that is 152 millimeters long, 57 mm wide and 16 mm thick, with a volume of 180 cubic cm, and weighs 190 grams, according to DoCoMo.

In January this year, Fujitsu announced that it made significant progress in developing DMFC technologies, but at that time said it had no plans to commercialize the technology.

DoCoMo said that it and Fujitsu will finish development of the commercial version by the end of fiscal year 2005, which is the period between April 2005 and March 2006. The company said that the commercial version would be available sometime after that in 2006, but did not give more details.

A commercial version of the charger shown on Thursday will be much smaller and lighter than the prototype version, but DoCoMo did not provide information on how much it planned to reduce the size and weight. One cartridge will be able to charge a telephone three times when the charger goes on the market, Takeno said.

DoCoMo wants the slimmed down, juiced up fuel cell to offer a portable charging option for mobile phones on the go, at places lacking access to plugs needed for conventional chargers, he said.

"We'd like the recharger to be something you could slip into your handbag and use whenever you want, whenever you want to," Takeno said.

DoCoMo and Fujitsu are also working towards miniaturizing the DMFC technology so that it will replace lithium ion batteries, the type of battery that it commonly used in mobile phones. But this will not happen until 2007 or later, because of technical issues, Takeno said.

Several major Japanese electronics companies are working on DMFC technologies for portable devices, including Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd., Casio Computer Co. Ltd. and Sony Corp. Among these, Toshiba said it will sell fuel cell rechargers for mobile phones in 2005. Hitachi is readying a fuel cell ready for portable electronic devices, also in 2005.

DoCoMo would not comment on its plans to use other companies' fuel cell technologies.

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