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New fuel cell slots right in to power laptops

Future Toughbooks look certain to be powered by methanol

Another week, another story about fuel cells that might one day power our gadgets – this time from Panasonic.

The company is currently showing a prototype direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) at an exhibition in western Japan, where it is telling visitors to expect products containing it to arrive in 2012.

Fits in well

Key to the new cell is the fact that it's the same size as a standard laptop lithium-ion battery and so can be easily integrated into the PC manufacturing process.

The DMFC also boasts a similar run-time to current batteries, offering around five hours of operation on a 50cc squirt of liquid methanol.

Problems ahead

However, therein also lies part of the problem with fuel cells. As li-ion batteries gradually improve, DMFCs and other new solutions are going to have to offer considerably longer-lasting power supplies.

Throw in the inevitable high cost of any new technology like this and it's easy to see why fuel cells are taking so long to come to market.

That's why Panasonic is talking up the possibility of finding niche markets for its new DMFC, such as for powering devices during a blackout or any emergency when there's no mains electricity.