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Fuel cells to eliminate 'dirty' electricity

On a busy day for news of innovative and environmentally friendly power supplies, we have word of two groundbreaking developments in fuel-cell technology.

The first involves the world's largest experiment with methanol cells in a trial in Fukuoka prefecture in the west of Japan. The local government there is planning to equip 150 municipal apartments with the cells from October [Subscription link].

Cutting costs and emissions

Over the course of the three-year trial, they will supply 60 per cent of each household's electricity needs and 80 per cent of the hot water requirements while almost entirely eliminating carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions.

Meanwhile, visitors to the Fuel Cell Expo in Tokyo saw what's likely to become the world's first range of commercial fuel cells for powering electronic gadgets. The methanol cells come from MTI of New York State and include a universal charger, a power pack for digital cameras and a fuel cell battery for phones.

Longer life

The phone cell is designed to replace a conventional battery and can be recharged with a squirt of methanol instead of a trip to a wall socket. The DSLR camera device combines a battery that powers the camera and a cell that can recharge the battery, thereby doubling the normal period between charges.

Those two devices are likely to go on sale next year, however MTI promises to commercialise a fuel-cell-based charger even earlier. The prototype delivers power through a USB port and so can charge most kinds of gadgets. The company claims a single methanol cartridge should be able to charge something like a mobile phone up to ten times.