Growth predicted for micro fuel cells

Tuesday, 08 May, 2007

Micro fuel cells have just entered the consumer electronic products market and are likely to see large growth rates in the next five years, according to a new report "Micro Fuel Cells for Handheld Consumer Electronic Products " A Global Industry and Market Analysis'.

The 2006 market is estimated to be about $12 million and will reach $112 million by 2011 at an annual average growth rate of 55.7% from 2006 to 2011.

A micro fuel cell is an electrochemical device that converts the chemical energy of fuel, such as hydrogen or methanol or some patented fuel, into electrical energy. Unlike batteries, which require recharging, fuel cells can continuously produce electricity as long as there is a constant fuel supply. Though no universally accepted definition exists for micro fuel cells, the term typically describes small fuel-cell systems that provide less than 50 W of power.

Fuel cells have potentially higher energy density than batteries and promise a significant increase in power availability for portable electronics. However, developing a fuel cell system for portable electronics presents several engineering challenges.

To achieve high energy density requires miniaturisation of the "rest of the system', which can be achieved by incorporation of emerging MEMS technology. High conversion efficiency also presents a challenge to portable electronics designers to provide high-efficiency electronics that support fuel cell operation.

An additional challenge concerns the safety of a micro fuel cell system, particularly with respect to fuel handling and storage.

There is a potentially enormous market for fuel cells in the area of portable electronics. However, to become mainstream product, micro fuel cell systems must have superior performance and competitive cost with batteries. They must be safe to transport and environmentally friendly. Among portable power sources, however, micro fuel cells are not likely to replace batteries in all applications.

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