Fuel cell on a chip

Sept. 13, 2007
Engineers at Lillipution Systems, Cambridge, Mass., have borrowed technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Lawrence Livermore National Labs to shrink a solid-oxide fuel cell so that it fits on an IC.

Eventually, the company envisions the fuel cell powering a mobile phone for a month or more, being recharged up to 25 times from a $2 cartridge of butane, and lasting at least two years.

The butane fuel, which mixes with oxygen, presumably from the atmosphere, gets heated to 1,000°C. This changes the mixture into hydrogen and carbon monoxide which gets sent into the fuel cell. The fuel cell itself generates heat, thousands of degrees, but most of it gets channeled back to the converter where it is used to crack butane. The rest of the heat remains sealed in the chip by a vacuum cap. By-products, water and carbon dioxide, are less than 2% of what a birthday candle makes, according to company officials. With luck, the company will have the fuel cells on the market by next year.

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