MTI shows methanol fuel cell prototypes

MTI Micro has unveiled prototype Direct Methanol Fuel Cells for cell phones and digital cameras at an event in Tokyo.

MTI Micro has unveiled prototype Direct Methanol Fuel Cells (DMFC) that can keep portable electronics products running for longer than conventional batteries and make recharging much easier.

The fuel cell prototypes, which are based on several years of development work at the company, include a sleek model fitted to the back of a Samsung BlackJack smart phone and one packed into a battery grip of the size already used on digital SLR (single lens reflex) cameras. They will be on show at the Fuel Cell Expo, which opens in Tokyo on Wednesday.

DMFCs produce electricity from a reaction between methanol, water and air. The only by-products of the reaction are a small amount of water vapor and carbon dioxide, so the fuel cells are typically seen as a much greener form of energy than traditional batteries. A big advantage of DMFCs is that they can be replenished with a new cartridge of methanol in seconds.

"It's a completely grid-free environment," said Peng Lim, chief executive officer of Mechanical Technology (MTI), in an interview. "Recharging without plugging into the wall is very important for travelers."

The cell-phone DMFC prototype takes advantage of this quick replenish and potentially offers an immediate recharge when the battery dies, while the camera DMFC provides twice the energy of a Lithium Ion battery-based grip, he said.

The latter manages double the energy by combining a fuel cell and battery in the same case. The camera runs off the battery power, but the fuel cell has the ability to charge the battery once, so the combination provides double the energy. The cell-phone DMFC also includes a battery, but it contains just enough power to boot up the phone while the cell starts operation.

On the rear of the DMFC is a heat exchanger about the size of two postage stamps. It provides cooling for the system and allows the excess water produced in the reaction to evaporate into the air. In use it doesn't get hot but it does get warm -- about the same as a laptop computer. MTI says it should be fine to keep in a pocket without overheating, but whether users want a warm cell phone close to their skin remains to be seen. However the device is a proof of concept, and work remains to be done on it, so a cooler running DMFC could be possible by the time it's commercialized.

Before the DMFCs like the two prototypes are commercialized, MTI plans to bring onto the market a DMFC-based charger.

A prototype of that was also demonstrated. With a USB power socket on its side, it can recharge any number of portable electronic devices and even run them if they use a sufficiently small amount of power. Each refill cartridge for the recharger has enough methanol to recharge a cell phone about eight to 10 times, said Lim.

A road warrior should be able to survive away from a wall jack for a month with that much power, and then get another month by inserting a new methanol cartridge.

MTI is looking to partner with OEM companies to sell the rechargers, which it says will be ready for commercial production in 2009. It has already signed a deal with Duracell for distribution of the fuel cell cartridges, he said.

MTI isn't the only company pursuing DMFC technology. Others, like Japan's Toshiba, have been showing prototypes for years -- but none have reached the market.

Their debut has been partly delayed by hassles getting the methanol fuel onboard aircraft, but the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has approved uncompressed methanol fuel cartridges for carriage on planes, and several countries including the U.K., Canada, Japan and China have adjusted local rules to match. The U.S. is currently in the process of clearing DMFCs for take-off.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?