Open Competition 1 - Electronics and Photonics
Integrated Hybrid DMFC/EC Capacitor Powerpack
Develop a novel, long-lived, refuelable, batteryless power source for portable electronic devices, such as cell phones, by combining a miniaturized direct methanol fuel cell with an electrochemical capacitor and a microfluidic system.
Sponsor: MTI Microfuel Cells, Inc. (formerly Mechanical Technology Inc.)431 New Karner Road
Albany, NY 12205
Mechanical Technology Inc. and partner E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company (Wilmington, Del.) plan to replace the batteries in your cell phones and digital organizers with miniaturized fuel cells that actually generate electricity rather than storing it. The technology combines an advanced direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) being developed by MTI MicroFuel Cells Inc., a subsidiary of Mechanical Technology Inc., with an electrochemical capacitor to meet peak power needs, and a microfluidic system to handle the recirculation of water. The proposed 1-Watt Integrated Hybrid DMFC/EC Capacitor PowerPack system would provide the same power as a typical rechargeable lithium battery in the same space, but with a greatly improved life. The time between recharging (or refueling) of a cell phone with typical usage would extend from a few days to a full month. The user would simply refuel the powerpack in seconds from a commercially available methanol cartridge. The project will require the successful solution of several challenging technical issues. DMFCs are a specialized type of low-temperature fuel cell, which run on a mixture of methanol and water. They have been studied in recent years for a variety of applications. The advanced system funded through this program will require significant advances in power density and energy conversion efficiency. The microfluidic system needed to manage the methanol-water fuel and return the water from the cathode to the anode side of the fuel cell -- in the tight confines of the proposed device -- will require miniaturization and integration for such a device. DuPont will develop a new polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) tailored for methanol. If successful, the technology will give consumers a new power source for mobile electronics, which runs much longer between refuelings, refuels in seconds, and can be refueled for many more cycles before performance degrades. The device will have a higher energy density than lithium batteries over extended use, which will allow for direct competition with batteries, with the environmental advantage that it has no hazardous materials to worry about when the cell is thrown away. The technology would make the United States the leader in next-generation power sources for mobile electronics. For mobile phones alone this market could reach $9 billion by 2010. The project will include support from The University at Albany's Institute for Materials (UAIM) (Albany, N.Y.), which will help design and fabricate the microelectromechanical (MEMS) fluid management system; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Center for Integrated Electronics and Electronics Manufacturing (Troy, N.Y.), which will work on integrating the system's controls and power conditioning; and JME Inc. (Shaker Height, Ohio), a small business that will provide testing during the design process.