Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Miniature fuel cells replacing batteries

Portable electronic devices are becoming increasingly power hungry. A revolutionary micro fuel cell from a research group in Italy could replace traditional batteries to meet the rising demands of these devices.
Miniature fuel cells replacing batteries
Use of portable computers (i.e. laptops), mobile phones, camcorders, PDAs and other portable electronic equipment has increased dramatically over the past decade. The demands on these devices have grown significantly, resulting in a corresponding increase in power consumption. Traditional batteries are struggling to keep pace.

Micro fuel cells represent a possible solution. A micro fuel cell is a miniature electrochemical device that produces electric power from methanol, hydrogen, natural gas or other alternative fuels. It can produce a high power density efficiently relative to its small size.

Researchers from the Italian Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems have applied the latest techniques in microengineering to incorporate a micro fuel cell onto a silicon chip. Channels are excavated on the chip to enable the transport of oxygen and fuel. A catalyst suspended in a porous silicon substrate is layered over these channels. The substrate is then covered with a polymeric proton-exchange membrane, which provides increased thermal and chemical stability and proton conduction for superior performance.

The new micro fuel cell can provide more power, and therefore more hours of usage for the aforementioned electronics equipment, than traditional batteries. It is likely also more environmentally friendly since batteries are a significant source of hazardous waste.

These scientific advances have been patented. The process is ULSI (Ultra Large Scale Integration) compatible, ensuring universal acceptance. The initial results have received strong attention from the international community. The inventors are looking not only for venture capital funding to start a company, but also intend to stimulate further European research in this area.
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