Buckyballs power tiny fuel-cell powerhouse

The latest prototype can generate three times more energy than its 2005 predecessor

Exotic molecules like carbon buckyballs may soon become part of our everyday lives if the latest prototype fuel cell from Sony ever makes it to the high street.

The six-cell system Sony recently showed at the Small Fuel Cells 2008 exhibition in Atlanta has at its core an electrolyte membrane based on buckminsterfullerenes (to give them their proper name) and a platinum catalyst.

More energy for longer

While the science probably matters little to the man in the street, what does ring bells is the ability of the latest prototype to generate three times more energy than its 2005 predecessor.

The 5 x 3 x 2cm unit goes to work on a single millilitre of methanol, producing 1.1 watt hours of energy from the fuel. In its demonstration Sony used 10ml of the volatile liquid to power a mobile phone with a TV tuner running for 14 hours.

Better still, in combination with a lithium-polymer rechargeable battery, the tiny device can produce a steady 3W output by alternating supplying just power when it's needed most with charging the battery during quiet periods of energy demand from whatever needs the juice.

Whenever the buckyball system does make it to market, Sony claims it will be smaller still, so we fully expect to see it inside phones, rather than attached to them as in the demo.

J Mark Lytle was an International Editor for TechRadar, based out of Tokyo, who now works as a Script Editor, Consultant at NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Writer, multi-platform journalist, all-round editorial and PR consultant with many years' experience as a professional writer, their bylines include CNN, Snap Media and IDG.