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Samsung Working On Fuel-Cell Powered Cell Phones 151

An anonymous reader writes "BusinessWeek reports that Samsung plans to build prototype phones that will be powered by Direct Methanol Fuel Cells." From the article: "The deal also marks a huge vote of confidence in a little-known company. MTI Micro, which had sales of $8 million in 2005, is one of a handful of outfits seeking to bring hydrogen-based fuel-cell technology into more common use. Its Mobion fuel cells have already appeared in industrial handhelds from companies like Intermec, a unit of Unova, and have drawn the attention of military contractors developing devices that soldiers will use in the field. Under the deal, which lasts through the end of the second quarter of 2007, the two companies will jointly research the use of methanol-based fuel-cell technologies for use in cell phones. Any patents that come as the result of the research will be assigned to MTI."
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Samsung Working On Fuel-Cell Powered Cell Phones

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  • by JamesP ( 688957 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:25AM (#15357210)
    A Cell fueled Cell phone using the Cell processor.

    That would be cool!

  • Methanol (Score:2, Funny)

    by Life700MB ( 930032 )

    Aside from the typical 'good luck trying to get your methanol powered mobile or laptop into a plane', how long have been fuel cells in development?

    They're the Duke Nukem Forever of the batteries!


    --
    Superb hosting [tinyurl.com] 20GB Storage, 1_TB_ bandwidth, ssh, $7.95
    • The electricity in my house comes from a power plant using fuel cells. So it exists and is used in practice today.

      Duke Nukem Forever however is still vaporware.
      • Where do you live? Right now there are only two fuel cells (UTC PAFC and FCE's MCFC) that can be purchased that would be suited for utility power generation, and these would be installed at premium to customers even after all federal state and local buy-downs.

        The only one that I am aware of that is supplying power to the grid is a FCE MCFC that is installed in Westerville, OH. I'd be interested to know where another utility connected fuel cell is installed.

    • They're the Duke Nukem Forever of the batteries!

      That's because people got stuck in this notion that fuel cells are a replacement for batteries. They're great, but they make horrible batteries. I know I don't want to go back to the days when I have to buy new batteries every time they exhaust. I like the convenience of recharging them at home, something you just can't do with fuel cells.

      Right now, if my laptop batteries are running low, I have to plug it into an outlet to keep using it. The fuel cell

  • Alt Energy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Scigirl451 ( 974718 ) * on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:28AM (#15357229)
    I have a solar charger for my mobile phone and it works just fine. I am cheap and like the thought of free energy to power the black hole of money that is my phone. I applaud the expansion of alternative energy technology into our daily lives, but wonder if this is the best application for fuel cells...
    • Re:Alt Energy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dr. Evil ( 3501 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @11:31AM (#15358267)

      I'm sure your phone will never use as much energy as was used to create that solar collector :-)

      • I'm quite sure you're right, and just a little more explanation for those who don't already know: The energy required to produce a traditional silicon based solar cell is about equal to 8 years of constant daytime operation of that cell. Not coincidentally, if you put them up to power your house, it takes about 8-10 years to save enough money on your power bill to pay for the cells.

        Thin film cells promise to reduce this to less than 2 years, but they're not yet here in significant production.
    • I have one of those solar powered chargers and while I applaud the attempt at alternative energy the thing is crap.

      It takes the thing 8 hours of direct sunlight to fully charge the internal battery. It requires intense sunlight and the manufacturer even recommends not putting it behind glass because it reduces efficiency.

      I don't get 8 hours of direct sunlight in the winter and even when I do the light isn't sufficiently intense; it takes a good two or three days to charge the thing. And am I supposed to lea
  • by twiddlingbits ( 707452 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:28AM (#15357230)
    Now you can get brain cancer and methanol poisoning at the same time! :) Seriously, how do you recharge these things, with a can of pressurized methanol? Talk about a fire hazard! Or maybe the fuel cell is disposable and you just slap in a new one? That's not environmentally friendly. Maybe you send them back to the factory and they can refill them? Will there be a grey market in refills such as with Ink Jet/Laser Toner Cartridges? Will those refills be safe? Can you carry them on an airplane since flammable items like this are not allowed today? What do they do with the excess heat from the fuel cell operation? There are a LOT of questions to be answered both from the technology side and the business logistics side before you are going to see these in production for consumers. Meanwhile traditional battery technology is not standing still, we get more power density than ever now For the military which does not have to follow the same precautions it could be a good thing for field use, but I don't see them being comsumer devices ever.
    • One word: Enema
    • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:44AM (#15357350) Journal
      Batteries have always been nasty, from the very first lead-acid batteries on to today.

      Lithium-ion batteries [wikipedia.org], for instance, have the habit of exploding when charged. It took a lot of engineering and electronics wrapped around the charging of lithium-ion batteries to make them safe for consumer use.

      But when's the last time you heard about a lithium-ion battery exploding on someone? I haven't heard about it in a while. And it's been even longer since I've heard about it when it wasn't the person's fault.

      There are "questions to be answered", sure, but you sort of act like this is news. I could equally write a "questions to be answered" post about automobiles, starting with the impossibility of storing gasoline correctly. There are people who can answer those questions called "engineers", and while I wouldn't jump on the first iteration of the technology, the battery field has a pretty good track record overall. If it comes out for consumer use, it'll almost certainly be very safe after six months on the market.
      • But when's the last time you heard about a lithium-ion battery exploding on someone? I haven't heard about it in a while. And it's been even longer since I've heard about it when it wasn't the person's fault.

        Actually it was just in international news, because someplace in the southern americas (I think it was Brazil) a whole rash of cellphones have been exploding lately, in motorola phones. Motorola says they're investigating, and they believe people were using third party batteries, which are often c

        • i remember nokia had issues a while back with counterfiet (they actually said nokia on them apparently) batteries from the third world. However while they looked like nokia batteries they lacked a lot of the protection circuitry and some of them exploded.

          • Yeah that's why motorola batteries are so spendy, they're half holograms :) Well, the one that came with my phone was anyway. The battery I bought recently off ebay (oh noes!) is mostly black, but it looks too good to be a knockoff.
      • Have you looked at the design of a motorcycle recently?

        Fuel tank wedged between your legs, 20 litres of highly explosive fuel less than an inch from your bollocks.

        Directly beneath said 20 litre tank of highly explosive fuel we have the engine, on a modern 600cc sportsbike we're talking about somewhere around 100bhp or around 75kW and that's at the crank. Say the engine is a not unreasonable 25% efficient, the "waste heat" output of the engine is 225kW. Yeah that's clever... placing a 225kW heater directly u
      • Nice straw-man and changing the subject. You didn't address any of my issues. Yes I know Engineering can overcome a lot of obstacles, but we have been developing Fuel Cells designs have been around since the 1960's and still don't have it right. Lead-acid batteries have been around since the 1800's maybe earlier and it took until the second half of the 1900s to make them really usable and cheap enough for the average Joe. LI batteries have drawbacks as do NiCads but they are proven and we know what NOT to d
        • You didn't address any of my issues.

          You didn't raise any particularly interesting ones!

          That's my point.

          Why should I "address" your uninteresting issues? Your personal lack of faith in engineering is your problem. I just didn't think it should go unchallenged.
      • The PowerBook 5300 was, originally, the first PowerBook with a LiIon battery. It was famous for bursting into flames.
    • by DarkMan ( 32280 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:45AM (#15357358) Journal
      in the toxicity stakes.

      That is, the petrol (gasoline, for the North Americans) is, to a first approximation, just as toxic as methanol. When was the last time you heard of someone suffering from petrol poisoning, in any non-trivial (meaning, fixed with 5 minutes of fresh air) manner?

      The reason methanol seems more dangerous is that if you contaminate beverages with it, you don't notice it's there until you've consumes a lot. Pure methanol doesn't have that problem. (On the downside, it is absorbed through the skin, so that's not good. Still, when was the last time you got petrol on your hands, in other than a trivial fashion?).

      In summary, yes, it's unpleasant. But, in the opinion of this chemist, no more unpleasant that a large number of other substances that we manage to handle quite safely. Just don't drink it.

      On battery density - forget it. Battery energy density is on a negative exponential decay - there's just a limit to how much energy you can have in there, and we're at something like 85% of that, IIRC. Power density is improving, but it's better life that you really want, which is energy density. Everyone I know that does reaserch into batteries (that's about 30 people over 7 labs) basically thinks that batteries are more or less as good as they get - there's maybe another 5-10% improvement in energy density, but that's about it.
      • You're probably right that methanol is only as dangerous as gasoline, but I don't generally make a habit of putting heat-generating gasoline-powered devices up to my ear on a regular basis.

        Most people handle their cell phones a lot more than they handle the fuel tank on their car, and they are a lot more likely to do something to their cell phone that could cause significant damage, including rupturing the fuel cell.

        The bottom line is my phone now lasts 3 or 4 days without a recharge, and can be recharged f
        • Exactly how many gasoline powered lawn tools do you have?

          Professional landscapers use such tools for hours a day every day, and as far as I know the safety record of such devices is pretty good.

          It's nice to think of things to complain about, and this tech is iffy, but making reasonably safe fuel cells powered by methanol shouldn't be as difficult as you seem to believe.
        • No, but I'll wager that you often encase yourself in a cage with a 'heat-generating gasoline-powered device', and strap yourself to it.

          By the way, you are aware that lithium batteries are toxic, explosive, flammable, and generate lots of heat, aren't you?

          My point is that the relative risk of a well designed methanol fuel cell is no greater than the current technology risks that most people consider acceptable. It just because it's unfamiliar that the risk is perceived as greater (a well understood phenomen
      • Don't be such wimps!
        When we were kids at camp meths was the standard way of getting a primus stove or tilly lamp going. There were several burnt fingers but no one died that I know of.

        I was a baby boomer and it may be that there was a hidden agenda to reduce the surplus supply of kids.
         
      • 5-10%? That doesn't seem right to me. What about strained molecules like cubane derivatives or nitrogen rings? They pack a lot of energy into a small space/small amount of mass because there aren't easy spontaneous decomposition routes available.
        • You are conflating 'energy density of a compound' and 'energy density of a compound that we can extract as electricity in a controlled fashion'.

          Indeed, there exists more energy dense compounds that are currently used in batteries. But getting the energy out is tricky. Never mind future batteries - you know that about current lithium polymer batteries loose about 3% of stored energy on 'self protection circuits' - i.e. not bursting into flames at awkward moments...

          And, for a true comparison, you're not loo
          • [quote]You are conflating 'energy density of a compound' and 'energy density of a compound that we can extract as electricity in a controlled fashion'.[/quote]

            I'm assuming that with sufficiently advanced technology, the latter will follow from the former. :) We can decompose the various types of HEDM, so the issue is simply how to capture the energy of decomposition and dispose of the waste products.

            [quote]Indeed, there exists more energy dense compounds that are currently used in batteries. But getting t
      • Ethanol requires a much larger volume to reach toxicity. For "safety" reasons it could be flavored to taste terrible, perhaps like Mountain Dew.
        • I personally think you are on the wrong track here.

          In order to guarantee our safety, the fuel should be heated over a peat fire and then stored in quality oaken casks. Preferably for a minimum of 12 years, although 15 years would be a better bet. While this safety measure will result in a much greater time to market, this results in a far more effective product for short trips. Longer trips can be fueled with more inexpensive alternatives.
    • by nganju ( 821034 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:46AM (#15357362)
      There are a LOT of questions to be answered.

      More than half your questions are answered by TFA. Before you start pointing out that there are too many issues for it to work, why don't you at least try to read the article. FTA:
      What Soucy and MTI CEO Peng Lim envision is a world where instead of recharging your phone's battery, you'll buy disposable fuel cells that last longer than the batteries that come with cell phones today and are more eco-friendly.

      There's two of your (non)issues gone right there. It's not a fire hazard, and they are more eco-friendly than current batteries. Now before you respond asking what makes it more eco-friendly, it's actually explained in the article.
    • There are a LOT of questions to be answered both from the technology side and the business logistics side before you are going to see these in production for consumers.

      Not really; all the questions you asked have simple, obvious answers. To refill, you just take the lid off, pour in some more fuel (it's a convenient liquid), and put the lid back on again. If you want to prevent accidental exposure, just package the fuel in little cartridges like the ones that fountain pens have been using for decades. No

  • Hurdles (Score:2, Redundant)

    Not only is average Joe Sixpack going to be extremely reluctant to go back to having to buy replacement cartridges after getting ued to rechargable batteries, but there is the question of what the cartridges will entail.

    What are the safety issues of carrying around a hydrogen/methanol cartridge in a warm pocket, leaving it in a hot car, and other abuses suffered by our current phones? Additionally, as water is usually a waste product of fuel cells, are we all going to have to explain away the spreading dam

    • Exactly, this sounded great until I got to the part about having to buy replacement cartridges. Unless they cost literally pennies to buy, who is going to bother with that? Battery life is not really an issue for most phones these days (unless you own a RAZR) anyway.
    • Valid points.

      Perhaps they would do better to have some soft of fuel cell recharging unit. Something that is portable that can charge a phone in a small amount of time. A fuel cell "UPS" so to speak.

      Or perhaps the phone can be built where the user can decide on conventional battery types or the fuel cell. This would give the cell model flexablity and allow the user base to slowly migrate to new technology.
    • It would be cool if there were 'fill stations'. I'd pay $0.25 to have my phone fully charged instantly; especially if that charge lasted a week.

      As for carrying around methanol, well, people carry cologne/perfume/breath spray/hip flasks/etc.. around with them with no problems already. Many of those things are concentrated enough to be flamable, but the concentration of methanol used in fuel cells isn't. Even if the concentration *was* high enough, the ignition temperature is high enough that you wouldn't wan
  • ...is can I power my CAR with them?

    I stopped my cell phone service because of the price of gas, I simply can't afford to talk and drive at the same time, or any other time for that matter.

    Maybe I'll just buy a bunch of these phones, take out the fuel cells and then call up the Mythbusters guys to 'trick my ride.'
  • Good. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I'm getting kind of tired of my old coal powered cell phone.
    • Re:Good. (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dr. Cody ( 554864 )
      I'm getting kind of tired of my old coal powered cell phone.

      Don't knock coal--during WWII, which AC adapter supplies waning, Germany used coal and the Fischer-Tropsch process to power its cell phones up until the end of the War.
  • ..would be dandy. Just imagine, in the off-licence:

    "No darling, it's not for me, it's for my 'phone!"
  • by Billosaur ( 927319 ) * <{wgrother} {at} {optonline.net}> on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:40AM (#15357325) Journal

    ...phone nuts will now be able to talk incessantly about their mother's bout of constipation, their lack of a love life, how crappy their company is, and so on, extending the suffering I must endure on the train. And I hear JetBlue is thinking of addign wireless access to their planes, so you could use them in flight. Brilliant!

    I'll just nip off and shoot meself...

    • I'll just nip off and shoot meself...

      Good. Do the world a favor. Or at least go live in a cave somewhere, since it's clear that you hate other people.

      I'm sick of people bitching about things other people do that cause no harm to others whatsoever. If somebody talking on a cell phone bothers you more than somebody talking to the person across the isle from you on a train (which is damned noisy to begin with, so it's not like they're making it much worse), you have serious issues.

      And I say that as somebody th
      • It's not the talking that bothers people, it's the shouting. I'm fine with people using phones on the train, it's just that most of the time they do it at twice the normal conversational volume. It is intensely annoying to have the minutiae of someone's life yelled out next to you while trying to read a book. I don't know why mobiles seem to have this effect on people.

        Clearly many people are annoyed by it - a lot of trains round here have quiet carriages where mobile phones and music players are banned.
      • Good. Do the world a favor. Or at least go live in a cave somewhere, since it's clear that you hate other people.

        Tsk, tsk -- apparently contrary opinions aren't allowed? Good thought about the cave though, as long as it has Internet access. I can just imagine calling Comcast and ordering service...

        I'm sick of people bitching about things other people do that cause no harm to others whatsoever. If somebody talking on a cell phone bothers you more than somebody talking to the person across the isle from

        • Perhaps it's not doing me physical harm, but since I am pretty much trapped, being I have a long commute on crowded trains, is it it too much to ask for people to be courteous, keep the conversation short and quiet, and give others a chance at some peace?

          If the person next to you is doing one of those things, perhaps you should try asking, politely of course, for them to keep it down a bit? The fact that city dwellers treat each other as mindless zombies you shouldn't make any contact with, vocal, visual, o
      • Actually I think that's the rub... people talking to one another across an aisle tend to be cognizant of their surroundings and moderate their voice accordingly. People on cell phones act like the other party won't hear them unless they put in an extra 10dB. And the parent poster is not some lone malcontent.. Acela put specially designated "quiet cars" on every line due to people blabbing away.. and these quiet cars usually fill up early on in the route. You're telling me the following coming from the pe
        • And the parent poster is not some lone malcontent..

          You're not alone in making that comment. I wasn't aware that feelings being shared by a group larger than one person suddenly made them all right.

          You're telling me the following coming from the person sitting next to you on an airplane/trian/bus wouldn't be annoying?

          Sure, it would be annoying. I'm just not under any delusion that my right not to be annoyed extends beyond my ability to walk away from the annoying person.
  • by DigitalRaptor ( 815681 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:56AM (#15357431) Homepage
    I was looking forward to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (10+ years from now), but didn't think much of it until I read about Honda's new hydrogen fuel cell. It puts out 100KW of power [honda.com]!

    It's incredible to me that a fuel cell that is smaller than a common household gas generator puts out 20 times as much power.

    You could power your entire neighborhood with one of these in a power outage.

    • "I was looking forward to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (10+ years from now), but didn't think much of it until I read about Honda's new hydrogen fuel cell. It puts out 100KW of power!"
      • Mechanical horsepower -- 0.74569987158227022 kW (33,000 ftlbf per minute)
      • Metric horsepower -- 0.73549875 kW
      • Electrical horsepower -- 0.746 kW
      • Boiler horsepower -- 9.8095 kW

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horsepower [wikipedia.org]
      100,000W/746~=134 horsepowers
      134hp for a car doesn't sound so great, but 100kW can power 20-50 houses ea

      • Yeah, a friend pointed that out to me as well.

        I guess what we have to remember though is that is 134HP for a car that doesn't have to deal with the weight of an engine, transmission, or driveline. The hydrogen also weighs much less than a full tank of gas.

        Electric cars can be very snappy. I think this technology shows a lot of promise.

        The real question for me is how many solar panels you'd need to perform enough electrolysis to power it for 50 miles per day (most cars travel less than 50 miles per day).

        Ho
  • Just as an aside, methanol is what model airplanes use for fuel, and it is also used in the process of turning waste vegetable oil into biodiesel. As for safety, how hard can it be to come up with a safe way to transfer 6 oz of liquid from one container to another?

    When buying methanol [biodieselcommunity.org], like most things, the more you buy the cheaper it is. Keeping a 5 gallon container around and then filling your phone or a small syringe from that doesn't seem too difficult a proposition.
  • Eco-Friendly? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by spud603 ( 832173 )
    FTFA:
    What Soucy and MTI CEO Peng Lim envision is a world where instead of recharging your phone's battery, you'll buy disposable fuel cells that last longer than the batteries that come with cell phones today and are more eco-friendly.
    I'm not sure exactly how this is supposed to be more eco-friendly. A disposable cartridge system rather than a rechargeable battery? OK, maybe fuel cells can get a somewhat higher fuel efficiency than centralized generation and transmission to individual buildings. But then
  • I want an ethanol-fueled PDA-cell-phone-combination with integral hip flask. Just unscrew the antenna and imbibe. Thash not a swizzle stick, Ofisher, thash my stylus!
  • Ok, so if I read TFA correctly, what we're really talking about here amounts to a battery with a different type of chemistry and slightly more complex internal structure. I don't see a promise of easy home re-use and re-charge necessarily in the TFA. In fact, it indicates the potential market for "...as many as 80 million fuel-cell cartridges" by 2012.

    Seems to me, that "fuel-cell cartridges" == batteries for all intents and purposes. Given that, the issues that will need to be raised are the same as those of batteries now. Will they be made in standard sizes, or will we have to pay a premium for the model used by each manufacturer? Compare this to ink-jet printer cartridges. They all pretty much do the same thing. We are forced to buy a unique one for each manufacturer and printer. They purposely make them different from each other even within the same vendor, so that small competitors cannot have the manufacturing capability to produce a full product line without huge startup costs. The result is that we pay a huge premium for the name brand or one of the few aftermarket versions, or go through hell refilling them.

    Be careful here. Calling it a fuel cell doesn't mean you can carry around a bottle of ethyl alcohol and refill it yourself. It also doesn't mean you can go to the local convenience store and buy a stockpile of size AAA from one of a dozen competing companies. The business model that makes HP and Epson so much money now was copied from Gillette. Don't think for a second these guys won't try to go the same way.
    • by corerunner ( 971136 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @12:19PM (#15358799) Homepage

      You have raised an EXCELLENT point!

      TFA states that MTI has arrangements with Gillette (who owns Duracell), which "is helping MTI Micro create a retail and distribution business for a market in disposable fuel cells." They also claim the market could demand up to 80 million units annually.

      I've heard plenty about fuel cell cartridges while working in the power electronics research industry, but have yet to see any prototypes until your post inspired me to search. DMFCC [dmfcc.com] has a photo on their home page of their prototype fuel cell cartridges, and judging from the style of container they could be fairly interchangeable.

      In the end consumers will be at the mercy of decisions made by these large corporations, so one can only hope that standards will fall into place before too long.

    • The result is that we pay a huge premium for the name brand or one of the few aftermarket versions, or go through hell refilling them.

      anyone tried one of theese "continuous ink flow system" kits that feeds the printer directly from big bottles of ink?
  • No Boom Today (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:59AM (#15357968)
    that will be powered by Direct Methanol Fuel Cells.

    I've heard of exploding batteries in mobile devices. I really hate to think about what the result will be if we end up with exploding fuel cells as well some day.

    Of course I also wonder if your cell phone will be able to double as your lighter as well now.

  • Because we can... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chr0nik ( 928538 ) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @11:10AM (#15358067)
    This is rediculous. Thin film batteries are just around the corner, with a solid state electrolyte, they retain no memory, charge extremely fast, are cheap, high capacity, cannot break and leak chemicals, gas, or boil, and are paper thin to boot.

    A fuel-cell powered cell phone would be the perfect example of "because we can" technology. Completely pointless, with little or no practicality, doesn't really advance anything, but it's cool as hell.
    • by SysKoll ( 48967 )
      Whoah, not so fast. What's the energy density of thin-film batteries? Do they favorably compare against methanol fuel cells? If yes, they will obviously take over once available for cheap. If not, they might replace other battery types.

      Battery technology is not a one-size-fits-all. There are many different applications and many different technologies can survive in the market.

  • by DrXym ( 126579 )
    I've had shares in MTI for over a year now only to watch them wallow along in a display of volatile but slowly sinking value. A 30% boost is just what I like to see though it still doesn't cover what I forked out for them. If this bears fruit, then I might just have something to show from my investment.
  • ...show me the tools!

    Laptop and cell phone battery life and performance do affect a lot of people, but what's given me the most grief is batteries for power tools. They're quirky, the companies discontinue them after a few years forcing you to buy new tools, and some tools are so power-hungry they run through 'em in minutes. Give a cordless circular saw an alcohol fuel cell and a 1/2 liter tank and contractors will snap them up by the thousands.

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