MTI's Tiny Fuel Cell Gets $$$

Imagine a day when your laptop won’t need a recharge from dawn till dusk. That day could come by the end of the decade, if the companies working on fuel cell development for the portable electronics industry can prove their technology.

MTI MicroFuel Cells just received an additional $500,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund its “micro fuel cell” development project, bringing their total amount of DOE funding to $1 million. The DOE has promised a total $1.8 million in financing to the company between 2007 and 2008.

With their latest funding, MTI is wrapping up development on prototypes of their tiny fuel cell designed for the portable electronics market. Samsung and Duracell have already begun to work with MTI’s fuel cells and the company is reportedly planning to start shipping products for consumers in 2009.

Fuel cells, which generate electricity through a chemical reaction, are also being developed to power everything from cars to backing up data centers. But building a functional, safe and affordable fuel cell is no easy task, and trying to make a fuel cell to power portable devices involves its own inherent challenges: the fuel cell needs to be extra small — “micro” as MTI puts it — and just as portable as the device it’s powering.

MTI is just the latest micro fuel cell company to get federal funding; Neah Power Systems (NPWS) recently received $1.4 million from the Office of Naval Research and $1.35 million from the Department of Defense.

“The technology is actually hard,” noted Seeking Alpha last month in What Killed Micro Fuel Cells?:

“Micro fuel cell technology proved a harder nut to crack than everyone thought (at least at anywhere near the same cost point) – and the product development issues given the state of the technology proved to be a real challenge.”

MTI says that its fuel cell chip combats one of the biggest challenges in making a fuel cell for portable electronics devices: figuring out how to keep the device in a proper temperature environment to work. MTI has a technology in place that lets the fuel cell “self-regulate” so it can work when it’s hot, cool, humid, or dry.

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