UltraCell developing double-capacity, methanol-based laptop fuel cell

San Francisco (CA) - Imagine being able to power your laptop for two days on a single charge. You may not have to imagine for much longer. Fuel cell manufacturer UltraCell is demonstrating a prototype fuel cell system at the Intel Developer Forum, that it promises will replace conventional laptop batteries. The company's XX25 prototype being designed for the military, as well as a commercial version called the UC25, promise to as much as 9 hours of power within the 20 watt envelope - about double the capacity of current laptop batteries - while weighing up to 70% less.

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The UltraCell 25 fuel cell.

UltraCell's fuel cell systems use replaceable cartridges that contain a mixture of 67% methanol and 33% water. The power adapter into which the cartridges fit weighs about one kilogram, while the military versions of the cartridges themselves - which contain 500 wh/kg of energy - weigh 625 grams each. Commercial versions of the cartridges will contain 300 wh/kg of energy and weigh 260 grams each.

While the weight of the military version may seem significant, the company claims the weight of enough fuel cells for a 72-hour mission is 67% less than comparable batteries being used today. For soldiers who often carry their body weight's worth, or more, in gear into the battlefield, any reduction in weight is greatly appreciated.

UltraCell says that military prototypes will be delivered in the second quarter of 2006. The commercial UC25 model will go into beta testing in the second half of 2006. Whether soldiers beta-testing the new batteries will have to make up the lost weight by carrying fire extinguishers on their backs, remains to be seen.