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Dr Sukhvinder Badwals CSIRO research team is currently developing a compactlightweight battery that could power a laptop computer for up to 24 hours or a mobile phone for up to a month before requiring a recharge This lightweight battery infact is not a battery at all but a tiny polymer-electrolyte membrane PEM fuel cell that produces electricity electrochemically by reacting hydrogen or methanol with oxygen The reaction reproduces the chemistry of combustion but runs cool at just a few degrees above room temperature Compared with a traditional power source fuel cells have high power and energy density high efficiency relatively low or even no pollution emission low working temperature and noise level and rapid response to changes in the power demand Badwals team at CSIRO Manufacturing and Infrastructure Technology in Clayton Victoria has already developed working prototypes of both hydrogen- and methanol-powered micro fuel cells and aims to have commercial versions ready for market as early as 2007 Hitachi has also developed a prototype that is around 1 centimetre in diameter and between 5 centimetres and 6 centimetres in length or about the same size as an AA battery While methanol fuel cells can work off small non-pressurised cartridges hydrogen-fuelled PEMs require pressurised hydrogen gas While the hydrogen is only pressurised to 2 or 3 atmospheres the industry has yet to create a small safe and standardised container for this Badwal says the heart of the micro fuel cell is a thin but tough membrane only 20 to 50 microns thick 1 micron 001 mm made of a special polymer that conducts protons He describes the micro fuel cell as a totally new paradigm that could rapidly evolve into a billion dollar industry for Australia Micro fuel cells ranging from 05 watts to 50 watts in output will re-model the microelectronics industry by providing operating and standby times 6 to 7 times longer than the current generation of lithium-ion batteries Badwals team has
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