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Samsung DMFC circa 2006  (Source: Samsung)

Samsung DMFC circa 2007  (Source: AVING USA)
Samsung's slimmer fuel cell design can power a notebook for up to a month

Toshiba and Samsung have been working on ways to rid customers of traditional lithium-ion batteries used in notebook computers. Both companies are looking towards fuel cells and the technology is very promising.

Samsung displayed a version of its Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC) in late December that was capable of powering a Q35 ultra-portable notebook eight hours a day for a month. The fuel cell, which contained an energy density of 650Wh/L and total energy storage of 1,200Wh, was contained in a rather large box that was nearly as wide as the notebook and roughly twice as tall.

Samsung has made great strides to perfect its DMFC and recently showcased an even smaller design at its company showroom. Samsung appears to have shaved a few inches off the device in length/width/height. The DMFC now looks to be roughly the size of a couple of extended batteries stacked side by side.

Samsung reports that the fuel cell is still capable of operating a notebook for up to a month.

Despite the advances being made in fuel cell technology, we are still a few years away from fuel cells being commercially viable.

"Though we still need to solve ‘going smaller and sturdier’ issues, I think that we have made a technical quantum leap in commercialization," said SAIT VP Dr. Hyuk Change in November. "Within 2~3 years, the fuel cells including those for laptops currently in development with Samsung SDI will be widely used as it is forecasted to acquire a stable market with lower price lines."

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By techfuzz on 8/13/2007 8:57:39 AM , Rating: 3
Anyone know what the purported efficiency of these fuel cells that Samsung has been developing? Also, what is the likely cost? I read a long time ago that these cells would likely cost $1000 each. If that's still true, they've got a long way to go before there is a large enough market to buy them.

RE: Questions?
By nurbsenvi on 8/13/2007 9:26:43 AM , Rating: 2
It may cost $1000 to buy but unlike lithium batteries you can use this almost forever you just need to refill it with methanol...

Think about it 2 liters of ethanol will buy you 1 month of laptop mobility ONE MONTH! not week!

1200Wh is equivalent to having your average hairdryer on for an hour or is enough to run electric lawn mower for 2 hours and a bit...
and no recharging time.

I guess it will be a good idea to invest in Brazil and anything that is related to methanol production... you might be able to triple your wealth.

RE: Questions?
By littleprince on 8/13/2007 9:45:42 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah... Because I wanna lug around 2 kg of Ethanol all day + the components necessary for the cell.

Even if it was small, and i only need a few ml, i'd have to refill everday!

RE: Questions?
By MonkeyPaw on 8/13/2007 10:08:10 AM , Rating: 5
Would you prefer to lug around a big generator as well? A methanol fuel cell isn't for the power business user that only needs a few hours between plug-ins (like you could get something as flamable as methanol on an airplane anyway). No, such a product would be quite valuable if you need a computer where there is no power. Imagine doing research in a remote area, or working in disaster relief where utilities are down (or non-existent). In such situations, a few kg of Methanol would be considered a reasonable burden and necessary for the task at hand.

It would be nice to just plug your laptop into the sand and get power, but believe it or not, not everywhere has readily available electricity, so sacrifices are necessary.

RE: Questions?
By NEOCortex on 8/13/2007 3:19:32 PM , Rating: 2
I seem to remember that the FAA or some other government body putting methanol on the "list" of acceptable chemicals allowed on board a plane for just theses purposes (i.e. DMFCs). The push behind commercializing these kinds of fuel cells is quite strong actually.

RE: Questions?
By Spivonious on 8/13/2007 1:00:07 PM , Rating: 2
Why would I ever need a laptop to run off of battery power for a month?? The most I've ever needed is a few hours.

RE: Questions?
By svenkesd on 8/13/2007 1:25:41 PM , Rating: 2
That statement seems kind of short-sighted. Why wouldn't you want a laptop to run off of battery power for a month. It's more convenient and maybe necessary to have a longer battery life for many people.

RE: Questions?
By Spivonious on 8/13/2007 2:30:50 PM , Rating: 2
Unless this fuel-cell battery is at the same or a lower price than the current Li-ion I really don't see the point of extended battery life. If I'm home, I plug it in; If I'm on vacation, I plug it in when I get to the hotel. When do I need more than 8-12 hours of battery life, let alone a month? Not having to plug it in would be fun, but it's kind of pointless when there's so much access to electricity around us.

Only if I was a researcher out in the field in the middle of a desert would I need a month battery power, and even then I'd probably have a generator along anyway.

RE: Questions?
By hadifa on 8/14/2007 1:19:48 AM , Rating: 2
If I'm home, I plug it in; If I'm on vacation, I plug it in when I get to the hotel.

The whole point is that you don't need to plug it in. If current laptop's batteries were lasting for a month then you could go to a trip for 3 weeks and not need to plug it in. You wouldn't need to take the adapter and the cable wherever you go.

What if cars could only move for 20-25K before refuel. It would still work because petrol stations are everywhere but it is much nicer to drive for 400K before refuel.

You are right to think we could get away with few hours of battery most of the time but then you can send your "email" by post!

RE: Questions?
By Oregonian2 on 8/13/2007 2:03:09 PM , Rating: 2
It may cost $1000 to buy but unlike lithium batteries you can use this almost forever you just need to refill it with methanol...

I think one may be able to get a lifetime's supply of LiOH batteries for a grand, at least if one buys discount, and no ethanol required.

Only thing that bothers me is that it seems the battery may be bigger than the laptop. Maybe a little smaller might be good.

RE: Questions?
By Visual on 8/13/2007 9:31:16 AM , Rating: 2
honestly, i can see them selling quite well even at $1000, if they manage to make them small enough, easy and cheap to charge and indeed last you a month (or even a week) on a charge. i'd pay $1000 price premium for a laptop with that much battery life.

and i wonder why they aren't selling the bulkier variants as stand-alone UPS systems or something - keeping up a computer for a week, or seven computers for a day with a single charge seems quite an accomplishment, and its probably quite more efficient than diesel generators or other kinds of power backups.

the important question here is how much a recharge would cost and how easy will it be.

RE: Questions?
By AnnihilatorX on 8/13/2007 1:43:31 PM , Rating: 2
Last time I checked my notebook manufacturer is charging me $600 for a lithium battery replacement which will likely to last 1 year before degenerating again

By Chadder007 on 8/13/2007 8:56:16 AM , Rating: 1
What kind of Fuel is used in Fuel Cells?

RE: ??
By techfuzz on 8/13/07, Rating: 0
RE: ??
By nurbsenvi on 8/13/2007 9:02:25 AM , Rating: 2
In this case ethanol or some sort of alcohol

RE: ??
By Visual on 8/13/2007 9:23:47 AM , Rating: 5
it being called "Direct Methanol Fuel Cell", i too wonder what its fuel might be...

RE: ??
By Flunk on 8/13/2007 9:57:15 AM , Rating: 2
MMMMmmmm, corn powered computer.

RE: ??
By Kefner on 8/13/2007 10:34:54 AM , Rating: 2
What do you do when the Power is used up? Pour in more corn?

RE: ??
By Rhayader on 8/13/2007 10:51:56 AM , Rating: 2
These devices do NOT use corn-based Ethanol. They use an entirely different type of alcohol, called Methanol. It is the main ingredient in windshield washer fluid.

RE: ??
By S3anister on 8/13/2007 2:25:15 PM , Rating: 2
children of the Cr0n....

Methanol, not Ethanol
By Rhayader on 8/13/2007 10:36:31 AM , Rating: 2
There seems to be some confusion in this thread. First of all, the fuel being used is Methanol, not Ethanol. Methanol is a type of alcohol, and is the main ingredient in windshield washer fluid. Ethanol is a bio-fuel used similar to gasoline.

I used to work for a company which is working with Samsung on DMFC technology. The typical efficiency is about 1 Watt-hour per CC of fuel, which weighs about .87 grams. This means that a 1-liter bottle of fuel, weighing in at 870 grams, could power a 30-watt computer for about 33 continuous hours, or much longer if the machine is only being used a few hours at a time.

RE: Methanol, not Ethanol
By Frank M on 8/13/2007 11:26:48 AM , Rating: 2
Ethanol is also an alcohol, it's the kind we drink.

RE: Methanol, not Ethanol
By Rhayader on 8/13/2007 11:39:05 AM , Rating: 2
That's true, and I thought it was too obvious to point out in my post. I was just describing methanol, not trying to differentiate it from ethanol. Probably could have been clearer about it.

RE: Methanol, not Ethanol
By DesertCat on 8/13/2007 12:20:17 PM , Rating: 2
More on methanol. Methanol is a type of alcohol we don't drink. It can kill you if you do. Even if a person survives drinking a little of it, methanol can make the survivor go blind. For this reason, ethanol (the stuff we can drink) that is intended for industrial purposes and that doesn't want to be subject to the liquor tax is often spiked with some methanol. That way people can't drink it. Sometimes methanol is referred to as "wood alcohol" because it used to be made from wood. These days it's mostly made from natural gas.

If you used one of those little alcohol burners in your high school chemistry class, it was likely running on methanol.

RE: Methanol, not Ethanol
By Treckin on 8/13/2007 12:56:28 PM , Rating: 2
No, It WAS running on methane... totally different...

RE: Methanol, not Ethanol
By Rhayader on 8/13/2007 3:08:48 PM , Rating: 2
Treckin is right, those burners usually use methane, not methanol.

RE: Methanol, not Ethanol
By DesertCat on 8/13/2007 7:28:07 PM , Rating: 2
I wasn't talking about Bunsen burners that use gas. I was talking about alcohol burners. Maybe you never saw or used them? The burners I'm talking about have a glass globe filled with methanol and a wick. Definitely NOT a methane using device.

it's relative
By WileCoyote on 8/13/2007 8:51:58 AM , Rating: 2
maybe it's just a bigger laptop? ;)

RE: it's relative
By Brandon Hill on 8/13/2007 9:04:17 AM , Rating: 2
The notebook in first pic is a Q35. The notebook in the second pic is a Q30.

They are both 12.1" notebooks.

RE: it's relative
By S3anister on 8/13/2007 2:27:13 PM , Rating: 2
i would include that info on the thumbnail captions of those two laptops

Uh Oh -
By iFX on 8/13/07, Rating: 0
RE: Uh Oh -
By blaster5k on 8/13/2007 9:23:17 AM , Rating: 4
Umm... I think they'd welcome it. Fuel cells are supposedly more environmentally friendly than lithium ion batteries.

RE: Uh Oh -
By Treckin on 8/13/2007 1:02:09 PM , Rating: 2
ach... you hear 'fuel cell' and you automatically think hydrogen... Environmentalists support hydrogen FC tech because of the almost zero emissions qualities associated with it, in addition to the awesome fact of its virtually unlimited quantities in nature (besides atmospheric distillation, electrolysis separation of water generates also generates appreciable quantities of the gas, although advances are necessary to bring that extraction up to par efficiency-wise with atmospheric distillation

You know
By S3anister on 8/13/2007 2:23:24 PM , Rating: 2
I have to say, i'd be much more scared having a potentially volatile fuel cell pack ontop of my legs, or even just near me, than a Li-ion battery, even if it does power the laptop for a month.

RE: You know
By Rhayader on 8/13/2007 3:06:45 PM , Rating: 3
While methanol is flammable, it is stable at a fairly wide temperature range (-142F to 149F), and when packaged properly is certainly no more dangerous than a typical butane lighter. Lithium Ion batteries have proven to be much more dangerous (hence the many product recalls). And, since there is still a battery in between the fuel cell and the PC (the fuel cell acts as a battery charger), a machine like this wouldn't be any safer or more dangerous than your typical laptop.

Lets just hope sony dont make any...
By Hokum on 8/13/2007 10:10:34 AM , Rating: 2
I wouldnt want one of these exploding on me...

Nice technology though, cant wait to see it smaller and lighter.

I cant wait till
By Treckin on 8/13/2007 12:52:45 PM , Rating: 2
Ive been waiting for soooo long for battery tech to advance to the level that this promises. Even if they can only safely/cost effectively offer 1 week of battery technology in a package the same dimensions of a standard battery today. I would be interested to see this same tech in a cell phone or Ipod... At that voltage draw, I would imagine a cell could run for weeks and weeks on that sort of cell, even at such a smaller form factor. The sooner companies can miniaturize the components the better for all of us.
One of my questions would be how they recharge. I believe they need to be refilled with whatever gas that particular revision utilizes? If there could the sort of infrastructure which gasoline appreciates, I could see this technology going far. One of the most frustrating qualities of modern electronics is their limited functionality unplugged. I write from an Asus F3JP laptop (C2D @2GHZ, 2GB DDR2, 120GB HDD, Redeon x1700). I have to crank the screen brightness all the way down, and set the proc to minimal utilization to squeeze 2 hrs out of it, and at seriously minimized functionality.

Does this make anyone else think of star wars? They use gas filled power-cells in their weapons and ships... (pardon the reality referencing pronoun 'they')

Near and yet so far...
By androticus on 8/13/2007 8:03:03 PM , Rating: 2
we are still a few years away from fuel cells being commercially viable.

For about the last 6 years or more, I have been reading about how methanol fuel cells are "almost ready for commercialization" -- and then I read articles like this one that keep saying it is "still a few years" out.

Kind of annoying!

And the carbon goes...where?
By sonoran on 8/14/2007 1:04:03 PM , Rating: 2
Methanol molecules contain a carbon atom. this thing generates power, where does the carbon go? Does it build up and gunk up the fuel cell?

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