Replacing the Battery
in Portable Electronics; July 1999; Scientific American Magazine; by Dyer; 6 Page(s)
Despite major advances in portable electronics, the battery has changed little. Even so, small batteries remain the only choice for consumer products that need up to about 20 watts of power, for everything from toys to laptop computers. But batteries can be heavy and expensive, and they can expire without warning, requiring either replacement (presenting a disposal problem) or recharging (taking hours of precious time). Is there no better alternative?
Ironically, the answer may lie with another invention from the past century: fuel cells. Theoretically, the technology has the same consumerfriendliness as batteries: quiet and clean conversion of a material's chemical energy into electricity. But the real advantage of fuel cells lies in their amazing ability to liberate electrical energy from the hydrogen atom. A fuel cell running on methanol could provide power for up to 20 times longer than traditional nickel-cadmium batteries in a comparably sized package but at a lower price and for a small fraction of the weight. Another benefit is that fuel cells do not require lengthy recharging; they can instead be replenished quickly, simply by adding more fuel.