Toshiba has unveiled a prototype version of its Gigabeat media player that's powered by a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) instead of a battery.
The prototype media player, on display at the Ceatec exhibition in Japan, can run for up to 10 hours on 10 millilitres of methanol, longer than would be possible using a conventional battery that would fit in the same space, said Fumio Ueno, a micro fuel-cell technology executive at Toshiba.
DMFCs produce electricity from a reaction between methanol, water and air. Under development for several years, the commercialisation of DMFCs has been hampered by regulations that prevented them from being carried on aeroplanes and high costs of the components used to make the fuel cell.
Earlier this year, airline regulations changed, and DMFCs are now permitted onboard airlines provided that the amount of fuel carried is within the allowed limit of 100 ml of liquid per container.
Besides demonstrating the ability to put a DMFC inside a small device, Toshiba's prototype media player solves the problem of spillage when refuelling, Ueno said.
A clear plastic methanol cartridge connects to a refuelling port in the base of the media player. Once the connection has been made, the user presses a button on the cartridge, releasing methanol into the device's reservoir. When the reservoir has been filled, the user releases the button on the cartridge. Carbon dioxide produced by the fuel cell then pushes any methanol left between the reservoir and cartridge back inside the cartridge, he said.
Toshiba is working on a range of devices powered by DMFC and hopes to start introducing them within one to two years, Ueno said.