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Mini Fuel Cell Power Source Could Replace Existing Rechargeable Batteries

The days of fast-fading cellular phone batteries may soon be over. Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) recently developed a working prototype for a portable fuel cell energy source that could power a cellular phone 300 percent longer than existing rechargeable batteries do. Indeed, the new technology would be less expensive, smaller and more powerful than any battery currently in use, according to Jeff Morse of LLNL's Center for Microtechnology Engineering. He predicts that it could replace standard lithium-ion and lithium-ion polymer batteries in a number of consumer electronics products, such as laptops and handheld computers.

The new power source, which runs on liquid fuels, has at its core a thin layer of electrolyte materials sandwiched between electrode materials. As control elements distribute the fuel over one electrode surface, the other receives air. Heating of the electrolyte-electrode layers stimulates the flow of protons from the fuel, sending them across the electrolyte layer to the air-breathing electrode. The protons then react with oxygen to generate electrical current. Conveniently, recharging the power source requires only a simple switch of fuel cartridges.

The higher energy capacity of this miniature thin-film fuel cell battery "will lead to further new classes of personal electronics, such as autonomous sensors and communication devices that are not currently possible with existing battery technologies," Morse asserts. "This will facilitate the integration of voice, data and computing technologies that cannot be achieved with today¿s technologies."

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