Toshiba unveils methanol fuel cell recharger for mobile gadgets

Toshiba Corp is launching a portable fuel cell aimed at consumers seeking a quick, green – albeit pricy – way to recharge mobile devices while on the go.

The Japanese electronics giant yesterday unveiled the Dynario, a direct methanol fuel cell packaged in a cartridge that is small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. Dynario contains an internal tank that can hold up to 14ml of methanol, which generates electricity via a chemical reaction with oxygen.

A USB cable transmits the electricity to mobile devices, which are powered up almost instantly. A single refill of methanol takes about 20 seconds and can generate enough power to charge two mobile phones. The Dynario’s hybrid structure uses a Lithium-ion battery, which stores electricity generated by the fuel cell.

Toshiba is launching 3,000 Dynarios priced at $326 (£198) each in Japan on 29 October. A set of five fuel cartridges, each comprising 50ml of highly concentrated methanol, will sell for $35. The company has not yet announced a release date for other countries.

Battery exhaustion has become a “major concern” due to the rising power consumption of mobile electronic devices, especially those with internet connectivity and TV functions, Toshiba said.

However, Dynario has already raised some skepticism among IT industry observers who question the safety and practicality of carrying around bottles of highly flammable and rather expensive methanol.

The expense of buying and fuelling the Dynario has also sparked doubt as to whether it will ever gain enough momentum to become mainstream. Dynario’s popularity in Japan – or lack of it – will determine whether or not it will be sold in other markets.

However, in the longer term direct fuel cells are expected to play a growing role in powering consumer electronics products. Many manufacturers are developing fuel cell technologies as a green source of power that would last longer than Lithium-ion batteries, and experts are confident prices will come down as the technology scales up.

For example, Japanese handset maker KDDI also previewed a prototype mobile phone that uses direct methanol fuel cell technology earlier this month. The handset is a modified version of a Toshiba T002 smartphone and KDDI claims that the fuel cell can last up to 320 hours on a single charge.

Meanwhile, Motorola debuted a handset running on a hydrogen fuel cell last year, while Samsung has been working on direct methanol fuel cell technology for laptops, which are expected to be used by military forces starting in 2010.

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