Working principle of a fuel cell.
Fuel Cells for Printers & Cameras
Fuel cells are a rapidly developing energy conversion technology. They offer higher efficiencies than conventional technologies and their modular construction allows them to be economically and easily scaled down to small sizes to fit many applications.
These features make fuel cells attractive for a range of potential applications, from combined heat and power (CHP) to distributed power generation to transport and portable power for mobile appliances.
Canon Inc. has developed tiny fuel cells that they hope will start replacing conventional batteries to power some of its digital cameras and printers in three years.
Canon will join a small army of companies, including Toshiba Corp., NEC Corp. and Hitachi Ltd., that are working on the development and commercialization of fuel-cell batteries for the next-generation of consumer electronics.
Fuel-cell technology mixes hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity without combustion or pollution. Hence, they are considered to be a promising replacement for today's lithium-ion batteries, which are widely used to power a range of mobile products from notebook PCs to mobile phones.
While most of the development of tiny fuel cells is currently focused on devices that derive hydrogen from methanol, Canon is working on a system that supplies hydrogen directly from a refillable cartridge.
|Photo of a flame resulting from the combustion of hydrogen and methane.
Canon's system would be more environmentally friendly because fuel cells that extract hydrogen from methanol emit some carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Fuel cells that use only hydrogen do not.
Three prototypes have been developed by Canon. One is relatively large and would likely be used in a compact printer, another is the right size for a digital camera, and the smallest is about 3 cm by 4 cm (1.2 by 1.6 inches) for tinier mobile devices.
Fuel cells promise longer battery life than existing lithium-ion batteries but there are several hurdles on the road to commercialization. Prototypes are typically much larger and makers must establish an easy way to provide consumers with fuel.
Canon has not yet decided on how to sell the product, but would likely refill the hydrogen cartridges at Canon outlets.
Canon is also developing organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays to replace the liquid crystal displays (LCD) it buys from other firms for use in its cameras and printers.
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