Los Alamos, NM--If Robert Hockaday's dream comes true, not only will your next automobile be fuel-cell powered, so will your cell phone. Hockaday resigned his position as a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1997 to form Energy Related Devices (Los Alamos, NM), a company dedicated to the development of a Micro-Fuel Cell that he's been tinkering with for nearly 18 years. The goal: make a low-cost fuel cell that runs on methanol or ethanol and could power a cell phone for 100 hours of talking or 40 days in standby mode from just 1.5oz of fuel.
Key to the Micro-Fuel Cell's success is a low cost manufacturing method which uses a printing process similar to that used to produce computer chips. It's a "surface replica" fuel cell, and consists of three porous membranes. The central one is fiber reinforced; the outer two membranes perform water regulation and circulation. Electrodes are formed on the central membrane by depositing thin-film catalyst and metal electrode materials onto both sides of its surface via ion or light bombardment, etching, or vacuum thin film deposition.
Hydrophobic films deposited over the electrode films control the position of the electrolyte and strengthen the electrodes. Catalyst active surface area is maximized by separating the catalyst film from the porous substrate and then filling the intervening volume with electrolyte. Supplying fuel gas to one electrode and oxidize or gas to the other drives the cell.
"Exhaust" consists of water vapor and carbon dioxide. Hockaday claims the fuel cell itself is benign enough to be nearly edible.
Manhattan Scientifics (New York) has backed the venture in the form of a $1 million merger. Hockaday expects to have a prototype suitable for testing in a cellular phone or laptop computer within a year.