MTI MicroFuel Cells has demonstrated a prototype direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) to the U.S. military, the company’s president said Monday.
The Albany, N.Y., company demonstrated its 30-watt fuel cell to officials from the Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate, it said. MTI received an order for fuel cell evaluation kits earlier this year for use in satellite communication terminals.
“They loved it,” said Peng Lim, president and chief executive officer of MTI MicroFuel Cells, in an interview in Tokyo on Monday. Lim is in Tokyo to talk with Japanese companies regarding potential use of his fuel cells in their devices.
“We partnered with the Air Force Research Lab and U.S. Army. We will be producing field-testing units towards the end of the year for the testing to begin next year. Assuming the tests are successful, the next stage is producing the product,” he said.
The military deal is one of two that the company has signed as it continues development of the fuel cells. The company’s other deal is with Samsung Electronics and covers use of DMFCs in cell phones. MTI is on track to deliver a prototype to Samsung by the end of this month, he said.
MTI’s fuel cells use undiluted methanol as their fuel, while DMFCs from rival companies require the methanol be diluted with water. This translates into a higher power output from the cell, said Lim. Compared to current lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, the DMFCs also have a higher power density, so they can deliver more power for the same-size device.
That’s an advantage for the military and other users.
“Nowadays they have a so-called 24-hour mission, so they go out and come back within a day, but going forward, the U.S. military wants to have a 72-hour mission. Typically for a 72-hour mission, the soldier would carry between 24 and 36 pounds of batteries. With our technology, we cut the weight by a third and the size by half,” said Lim.
Commercialization depends on success of the upcoming field tests and also the company’s partners, said Lim. Once testing is successfully completed, the fuel cells will be ready for first-stage commercialization, but the speed with which they come to market depends on the eagerness of the customer to launch DMFC as a technology. However, with successful testing and a quick launch, the DMFCs could be appearing on store shelves in 2008.
MTI has also set up a deal with Procter & Gamble’s Gillette division, which produces the Duracell battery, for the distribution of methanol fuel cartridges to stores.
-Martyn Williams, IDG News Service (Tokyo Bureau)
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