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Power Hardware

Sony To Unveil New Fuel-Cell Prototype 116

Posted by samzenpus
from the new-power dept.
Nakeot writes "On Friday, Sony plans to unveil their newest portable fuel-cell technology, aimed at a variety of mobile applications. From the article: "The system contains both a methanol fuel cell and a Li-on battery" and can "intelligently switch between power from the battery, fuel, or even both under high-draw circumstances." Sony intends to show off two models claimed to power your cell for a week or a month, respectively, as well as the latest developments with their sugar-batteries that can now run purely off your favorite cola beverage. This model builds on Sony's 2008 model, their first commercially-demonstratable prototype, and could make waves with Sony's OLED devices, but will Sony be able to avoid another battery recall?"
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Sony To Unveil New Fuel-Cell Prototype

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  • by Aldur42 (1042038) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @07:38PM (#26990839)
    My cell already lasts a week, but I think that's because no one calls
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Jangchub (1139089)
      Mine lasts at least a week; I too lack any human friends... Want to get together over beers?
      • with their sugar-batteries that can now run purely off your favorite cola beverage

        And you should be able to spill that beer on your cellphone, and it will run even longer!

        Although maybe a rum and coke has more sugar in it than beer......

      • Exploding Li-Ion batteries so close to my genitals is risky enough, add methanol to it and you get a contender for Darwin's award.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Mine lasts a week as well, but I go through at least 300 minutes every two weeks, especially when the girls are around.

        I don't go through nearly as much cell time as toilet paper when they're around, though. My cell battery is far longer lasting than the TP.

    • by nmg196 (184961)

      My phone ALREADY lasts way longer than a week. Does that mean this battery is no better than existing ones? Or that someone has messed up the summary? I don't get what the advantage is of a battery that can only power a phone for a week.

      • by maxume (22995)

        You can dump some methanol in and keep on going. A few ounces of liquid may be a lot easier to carry around than extra batteries, or the electric grid, depending on what you happen to be doing.

  • by sirwired (27582) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @07:43PM (#26990899)

    We have been hearing about fuel cells "just around the corner" for a freakin' decade now. I think you can put them in the same corner as Duke Nukem Forever and that Holographic Storage thing that keeps popping up on Slashdot.

    SirWired

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Eziril (657544)
      There are many corners to pass for a technology to become mainstream. Fuel Cells have already passed several of these. They've gone from an idea on a blackboard, to a gadget in a lab, and now multiple large companies have put out prototype devices. The Honda fcx clarity car being and portable batteries being just two. Fuel cell buses are already prowling the streets of several cities. Probably the biggest advances yet to come are cost, large scale production, and wide scale distribution of fuel for the fuel
      • Agree with parent. Take OLEDs for example. They still have a lot of issues to overcome, but they're slowly finding their way into the industry, namely on PMPs, some cell phones, other examples.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Hal_Porter (817932)

          The problem is a lot of things fall at one of the hurdles to becoming ubiquitous.

          E.g. Field Emissions Displays looked promising a few years back and I thought they'd end up being used in pretty much all TVs. Oddly enough LCDs which back then were crap and expensive have ended up being good and cheap and have replaced CRTs almost completely.

          I thought the same thing would happen with Plasma v LCD, but it seems to have peaked. It's still quite possible OLEDs will stay in the niche market of small screens for P

      • If you turn enough corners you will eventually be facing the same way you started in the first place...

      • by Belial6 (794905)
        Concerning wide scale distribution of fuel for the fuel cells...

        What I really want to see is a unit that can be used as a big battery for solar installations. Let me produce hydrogen all day in the sun and then run the other way around at night.
        • by neomunk (913773)

          IIRC, that's done pretty well with compressed air in sealed caves, in pumping water uphill to be used for hydroelectric at night, or using flywheels.

          Large fixed-installation power storage is very doable right now, but good portable power is still desperately needed.

      • by TapeCutter (624760) on Thursday February 26, 2009 @02:57AM (#26994897) Journal
        The Top Grear crew are not exactly a bunch of tree-huggers, yet even they have repeatedly called it the most important car in 100yrs [youtube.com].
      • by mattr (78516)

        Hi,
        You are right, and the Clarity is really oool.
        I saw presentations by the FC divisions of Honda, Nissan and Toyota today at the FC Expo. 2015 is the date they are aiming at to realize a serious Hydrogen market (though this will be a bit tough). Some important issues are starting in subzero weather (the water freezes... but they have gotten pretty far on this), anode deterioration when frequent start/stop develops an eletrolytiC gradient, and other things. They want to bring the expense down by 90% too. Th

      • by Muad'Dave (255648)

        Fuel cell buses are already prowling the streets of several cities.

        Buses, prowling. Interesting juxtaposition. I imagine an animated bus like a giant Herbie sneaking along the street, trying in vain to hide behind street signs.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Chris Burke (6130)

      and that Holographic Storage thing that keeps popping up on Slashdot.

      Yeah but it looks so real... like I can just reach out and touch the drive.

      I also like the psychedelic colors.

      Seems promising to me!

    • by criminy (62218)

      I think you can put them in the same corner as Duke Nukem Forever and that Holographic Storage thing that keeps popping up on Slashdot.

      Likewise:

      Flying Cars
      3D TV
      Fusion Power

      • by kwantar (1398143)
        You can scratch one off of that list!

        http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=09/02/25/1929244 [slashdot.org]
      • by pmarini (989354)
        3D TV is here already.

        I had replied to another post some days ago and was criticised about it not being "ready" for cinema viewing (people looking from multiple angles), but I was referring to personal viewing at home.
        no glasses, no fuss, it just works...

        flying cars are also already here (and am not talking about the one with the parachute-thing on it...), but they are simply too difficult to "drive", when your average joe-six-speeds can barely pass a test for 2D roads :-)

        not qualified to speak abo
    • by EdIII (1114411) * on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @09:04PM (#26991871)

      I think you can put them in the same corner as Duke Nukem Forever

      NOTHING can be in the same corner as Duke Nukem Forever. In Vegas the odds would be better of Elvis riding towards Caesars Palace on a Unicorn, on a rainbow, with a horde of screaming Leprechauns chasing after him pissed because he stole the pot of gold. Ohhh, and Elvis would have TITS. Big Ones.

      • by PiSkyHi (1049584)
        Odds reduced slightly since Elvis did have tits for a while there.
        • by EdIII (1114411) *

          Fine. I meant big huge boobies like Dolly Parton or Jessica Love Hewitt. Not man-titties. Something with cleavage.

          I have yet to see a man with man-titties so big he could make cleavage, and I fervently hope I never do.

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "Hail to the king, baby!"

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Muad'Dave (255648)
        with a horde of screaming Leprechauns chasing after him pissed because he stole the pot of gold.

        He ate all their bacon and peanut butter and banana sandwiches, too.

      • by wrook (134116)

        Damn it! You've given away the whole plot of the game!

        Now they're going to have to start all over again. I hope you're happy!

      • by c00rdb (945666)
        That happens all the time in vegas already.
    • by Athens101 (815168)
      obligatory
      http://anotherrandomday.com/?id=535 [anotherrandomday.com]
    • by soren202 (1477905)

      We have been hearing about fuel cells "just around the corner" for a freakin' decade now. I think you can put them in the same corner as Duke Nukem Forever and that Holographic Storage thing that keeps popping up on Slashdot.

      SirWired

      Nah. At least there's a trailer for Duke Nukem Forever.

      At this point, I'm putting more faith in that game than fuel cells.

    • The major difference between DNF & fuel cells is that the cells exist and are being used, even if in prototype form:

      I saw the green bike pictured here [alternativ...-news.info] at an electric bike event in Wales last year but more people were interested in the normal battery bikes because they could buy one there and then if they wanted (and some did).

      I would love an electric bike that could do up to 100km on a single charge/refill but the (un)availability & price right doen't make it feasable. Hopefully when I've run my
      • ...i have these things called legs, and i use them to push these things called pedals... but in all seriousness, thighs of steel.
  • I was expecting something like this to be bulky, but the article's picture shows that the batteries are fairly small. This could be really good for people who travel. I charge my phone while I'm sleeping, but I always have to take the charger along for long trips, and then find a plug.
  • by owlnation (858981) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @07:50PM (#26991001)

    "Sony intends to show off two models claimed to power your cell for a week or a month"

    ... or until it explodes in a ball of fire, like their previous batteries.

    • You beat me to it......
    • The system contains both a methanol fuel cell and a Li-on battery. [...] Sony intends to show off two models claimed to power your cell for a week or a month

      ... or until it explodes in a ball of fire, like their previous batteries.

      So that's why it includes a conventional Li-Ion battery inside as well.

  • From the article:

    > The system contains both a methanol fuel cell and a Li-on battery

  • by KingSkippus (799657) * on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @07:56PM (#26991091) Homepage Journal

    The only downside is that since it's from Sony, it installs a rootkit on your cellphone that keeps you from copying pictures you take on it to your computer...

    (Yes, I'm still holding that grudge. Such is the PR price a company pays for being so mind-numbingly stupid.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Shakrai (717556)

      The only downside is that since it's from Sony, it installs a rootkit on your cellphone that keeps you from copying pictures you take on it to your computer...

      I believe that Verizon Wireless already has prior art [engadget.com] on that one ;)

    • Re:The downside... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by EdIII (1114411) * on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @09:19PM (#26992057)

      (Yes, I'm still holding that grudge. Such is the PR price a company pays for being so mind-numbingly stupid.)

      Your not the only one holding that grudge. Just like you I bring it up every single time I can. I'll release my grudge when some Sony executives go to prison.

      I also object to the word stupidity. I honestly believe it was downright maliciousness and their actions were not without intelligence. They knew exactly what they were doing and thought they had the rights to do it. That was not stupid. It was evil. Calling them stupid makes them out to be fools and somehow deserving of our compassion for just being simple idiots.

      In EVERY other single case of a rootkit being installed on consumers systems without their knowledge, there WOULD be a criminal court case. Sony does it.... nothing.

      • See them in jail? For what? For making the decision to include a feature they licensed from some scummy DRM developer and they had no clue how it worked? Those execs had no clue what they were doing other than that it would potentially help stop people from pirating their music. Execs rarely have a clue about anything technical and they are the ones who make the decisions. Anyone else down the chain either didn't know either or wasn't big enough on the radar to matter. Not saying Sony's not completely innoc
        • by EdIII (1114411) *

          I still don't buy it. I think the execs at Sony did have knowledge of what they were doing. In any case, I hope we can at least agree that *somebody* needed to go to prison here. If you are right and Sony execs were just ignorant of what their underlings brought them as an option, then fine. I want the person that knew what a rootkit was, what it did to the systems, to go to prison.

        • The real evil are the individuals who made the technology and sold it to Sony. They knew what it was going to do.

          or maybe the people who sold the technology to Sony knew exactly what they were doing, and specifically designed it that way because they wanted a worldwide backlash against DRM? ...see, I can make unsubstantiated claims too.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by FlyingBishop (1293238)

          A rootkit is the very definition of "gaining access to a computer system without authorization."

          They quite literally hacked into their customers' computers without their knowledge. How is that not criminal?

      • I also object to the word stupidity. I honestly believe it was downright maliciousness and their actions were not without intelligence. They knew exactly what they were doing and thought they had the rights to do it.

        You're absolutely right, I stand corrected.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        I'm holding that grudge, too. The first thought that came in my mind whan I saw this story was "too bad it's Sony". I'll settle for a non-Sony battery that needs charging every day over a Sony battery that only needs charging once a year, because I refuse to let Sony have another penny of my money.

        In EVERY other single case of a rootkit being installed on consumers systems without their knowledge, there WOULD be a criminal court case. Sony does it.... nothing.

        If I did to one of Sony's computers what they di

    • You do realize that it was not just sony. In fact there are some companies still doing this. The German release of Mr and Mrs Smith come to mind as one such case. Also unlike in the sony version, the company makes you enter a n digit code to remove it, and only permit you to remove it *once*.

      The enemy here is not Sony. Its corporations in general, but in particular the ones that are scared to death by the internet and our ability to copy bits.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Linker3000 (626634)
      I am just waiting to see what kind of 'nearly-the-same-as-all-other-power-connectors-but-slightly different-so-you-need-to-buy-Sony-originals-and-nothing-else-will-fit' they come up with this time.
    • Its funny you should mention it, since most new SonyEricsson (arguably more Ericsson, than Sony), are known in the field for being pretty good in terms of media transfers.

      Back in the day (pre-SonyEricsson) they used standard Defined file formats (jpg, gif, wbmp, amf, midi, ims) for their media formats and allowed transfer two and from via simple IrDA, or OBEX on Bluetooth devices. Even their "themes" were basically a defined colletions of gifs/png with a XML descriptor, in a tar file renamed to .thm.

      This co

  • by Zymergy (803632) * on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @07:57PM (#26991117)
    Not sure this is the best alcohol fuel to oxidize (burn) in a fuel cell use? http://fscimage.fishersci.com/msds/14280.htm [fishersci.com]
    Ethanol is a less toxic and less reactive to metals (and much safer) alcohol to use. https://fscimage.fishersci.com/msds/89308.htm [fishersci.com]
    From another methanol MSDS: "Releases flammable vapors below ambient temperatures. When mixed with air and exposed to ignition source, vapors can burn in open or explode if confined. Mixtures with water and as little as 21% (by vol.) methanol are still flammable (flash point less than 104F). Under some circumstances, may corrode certain metals, including aluminum and zinc and generate hydrogen gas. A methanol fire may not be visible to the naked eye."

    Aren't many laptops made of aluminum and zinc and magnesium? What happens when the lithium battery decides to cook off? Hummmm?
    (In any case, I am sure the TSA will let us all board planes with our alcohol-fueled laptops.)
    • It's possible that they don't use ethanol for the same reason the 85% is as high as ethanol for cars is allowed to go. That being there are people stupid enough to try to drink it and you might actually have to limit it's sale as alcohol unless you could show that it is nearly impossible to access it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by billsnow (1334685)

        you can make ethanol non-drinkable (and toxic) by adding a bit of methanol. It's called denatured alcohol. 100 percent ethanol is used as a fuel in many applications. I've used both methanol and ethanol for fueling my backpacking stoves. Ethanol has a slightly higher energy density (more joules per gram); methanol is slightly more volatile (ignites more easily). Ethanol has the edge for camping in the backcountry because I can mix it with lemonade packets for a cocktail. Methanol would make me vomit (or die

        • by Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @09:33PM (#26992221)

          Ethanol always has methanol in it. In the presence of ethanol, methanol is not toxic because the ethanol prevents it from being converted into formaldehyde. The treatment for methanol poisoning is an ethanol drip.

          Methanol is used because ethanol fuel cells don't exist technologically yet. Methanol is a much simpler molecule.

          Methanol is more toxic than gasoline in the sense that methanol has a very low vapor pressure and so if there were a spill in an enclosed area, you would breathe in a good amount of it, which could cause blindness.

          • by Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @09:39PM (#26992273)

            Sorry, apparently my first paragraph is based on an urban legend, not facts. Ethanol does usually have a very tiny amount of methanol in it, and ethanol will compete for the alcohol dehydrogenase that will make the methanol toxic, but ethanol is not sufficient treatment by itself to make the methanol safe.

            I think. I'm not totally sure I trust wikipedia more than the postdocs in my lab. Meh. Better safe than sorry though.

            • yes the problem with ethanol fuel, is that the government loses a revenue source. there is nothing stupid about drinking ethanol, in fact almost everyone does it. they really don't care about peoples health because, down and out people will still drink their methanol "denatured" poisoned brew.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Gibbs-Duhem (1058152)

        Um, they limit it to 85% because if it's higher than that, most gasoline internal combustion engines will not be able to ignite it. In many cars, it's limited to 10% because the O-rings will degrade in the presence of ethanol.

        Further, getting ethanol higher than 90% is extremely expensive and typically requires adding toxic chemicals such as benzene. ...

        • by Shakrai (717556)

          Further, getting ethanol higher than 90% is extremely expensive and typically requires adding toxic chemicals such as benzene. .

          Huh? I can buy a 750ml bottle of Everclear [wikipedia.org] for $20. It's 95% ethanol and given that it's intended for consumption I'm guessing they didn't add any toxic chemicals to it.

          • by mikeee (137160)

            $27/L is pretty expensive for a fuel with about the same energy content as gasoline.

          • by rcw-home (122017)
            The grandparent probably meant 95% (technically, 95.6%), not 90%. Ethanol is hygroscopic (it absorbs water). If you have 100% ethanol, and leave it exposed to air (or attempt repeated distillations), it'll become 95.6% ethanol + 4.4% water (Everclear). Additives can prevent this - the grandparent mentioned benzene and Wikipedia mentions glycerol. If you're drinking it, you probably want to stick with that 4.4% water. Maybe a little more than that, actually.
            • Thank you rcw-home, yes, I meant 190 proof, not 90%.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Roger W Moore (538166)
              The important part about the 96% limit is that it is the maximum obtainable by distillation. If you achieve >96% by use of chemicals it is easy to maintain it at that level by putting it in a sealed bottle which prevents it absorbing water vapour from the air.
    • by Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @09:26PM (#26992121)

      (I study this for a living.)

      Methanol is better because there aren't any carbon-carbon bonds to cleave. This makes it easier to find catalysts that will functionally convert it into CO2 and H+ ions. Smaller molecules are just generally simpler to work with.

      In the end, methanol based fuel cells exist. Ethanol based fuel cells don't. I'm working on it, but it'll be a while =)

      As far as safety, methanol is mostly dangerous because if it is ingested or inhaled, it will be converted into formaldehyde in the body and cause blindness. Methanol is not particularly more corrosive than ethanol/water, and while it has a lower vapor pressure than ethanol, the quantity of methanol present in a battery form factor is likely to be far too small to produce a serious hazard.

      • by TheLink (130905)
        "Ethanol based fuel cells don't. I'm working on it, but it'll be a while "

        How do you guys work on such stuff?

        Is it based on "hunches" that certain materials might work in some scenarios, and then you go through the combinations?

        While you're at it, how about a fuelcell that runs on hydrocarbons? After all, an efficient way to store hydrogen is around carbon chains :).
        • by squoozer (730327)

          I used to work on SOFC (Solid Oxide Fuel Cells) which, unlike methanol and hydrogen fuel cells, operate at high temperature - at least several hundred degrees. On of the benefits of working at high temperatures was a much wide choice of fuel supplies and better ion mobility. In theory SOFCs should be able to run of virtually any hydrocarbon that can be got into the vapour phase at the given operating temperature, in reality I think we would probably be limited to simpler molecules though. Another benefit of

          • by TheLink (130905)
            Why do they have to be large though?

            Would aerogel insulation help maintain the temperatures enough, so that the restart times can be significantly shortened?
            • by squoozer (730327)

              SOFC's currently run at about 900 to 1000 deg C which is pretty hostile to the equipment (I was working on lowering the temperature to around 700 deg C). When building a SOFC most of the cost is in building a system that can handle these temperatures not the materials they are made from - although they aren't cheap.

              In other words it doesn't cost twice as much to build a system twice as large (within reason). When you build a system you want to get as much bang for your buck as you can so you build it big. T

              • by TheLink (130905)
                Yes but if the insulation is good enough, perhaps the temperature will not drop that much between restarts.

                Aerogels can provide good insulation and they should be able to tolerate 1000C (melting point = 1200C).

                Trouble is the heat will probably leak out via the rest of the stuff in the system (unless there's some clever way to stop that).
        • Basically, you're exactly right. You read through the literature to see if anyone else has found something that "sort of" works, try to guess why it works at all, and then try to come up with ways to make it more than "sort of" work.

          Most of the time, my thought process goes something like this:

          1. It sure would be nice if we could use ethanol in a fuel cell.
          2. Hey, that's great, Dr. Booringhouse found a catalyst that let him use ethanol in a fuel cell, but it's not very efficient.
          3. Hmm, it's supported on ce

      • by JaBob (1194069)

        Hey, someone who might be able to answer this... My question is how do you think the waste heat from the fuel cell reaction will affect the life and performance of the Li-poly battery? I'm not all that up on battery tech, but I was under the strong impression that heat is always bad for batteries, i.e. heat causes material degradation, reduces battery functionality over time, messes with chemical kenetics, and increases electron leakage due to the higher amount of energy around. Isn't that why there are lim

    • Great.

      You can be sure that if they could make an ethanol-based fuel cell, they would. There's a good reason their engineers choose the materials that they use. It's easy to say that there are better ones. Getting them to work, not so much.

  • so this could potentially be a battery that recharges itself? That's got a really high Geek Factor (TM)

  • A Cell [wikipedia.org] prototype? :) Old news, they already released it.

    ;-)
  • Can't fly with it (Score:3, Informative)

    by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @08:23PM (#26991401)

    Methanol makes a fine carrier for hydrogen. Too bad it's also used in lighter fluid, as in charcoal grill lighter fluid. In the picture, you can see the little tank in the cell that contains the methanol. It's pretty. Very stylish. And guaranteed to make Homeland Security put you in a small room for several hours.

    Ok, so you never take it on an airplane. I know! Let's take it to school! 'cause kids listen to MP3s a whole lot on the school bus and wandering around between classes and during class (even though they're not supposed to). "Student expelled for bringing flammable materials^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H a BOMB to school" - headline coming to a slashdot near you. "'It's just my MP3 player!' says student, now permanently on a Homeland Security watchlist."

    Ok, so you can never take it to school. I know! Let's use it at home! 'cause surely we can listen to our MP3s in the safety of our own bedrooms. "Rash of house fires sweeps nation" - headline coming to a slashdot near you. "Fire marshals report MP3 players dropped and broken when stepped on is soaking carpets in alcohol and igniting by their own shattered electronics."

    Yes, hydrogen is a slippery element. Yes, it's hard to contain it. Yes, it'd be nice if portable electronics had better batteries. No, I don't think a methanol fuel cell is going to solve the problem...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      And yet we can take Li based batteries onto planes that have a history of starting fires.

      Once enough people want it, especially business people who want to use their laptops on longer flights. Then the airlines push back, and usually get their way. At the end of the day, you can't cost the airlines too much money up front.
  • by CySurflex (564206) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @08:40PM (#26991593)
    The onion already had this story several weeks ago:

    Sony Releases New Stupid Piece of Shit That Doesn't Fucking Work
    http://www.theonion.com/content/video/sony_releases_new_stupid_piece_of [theonion.com]
  • whenever you try to use it to power your PC to run BitTorrent.

  • by TheSHAD0W (258774) on Wednesday February 25, 2009 @10:17PM (#26992733) Homepage

    ...Considering most recent cell phone batteries will already last 3-4 days. And does it have enough current capacity to RUN the cell phone, replacing the current battery?

    • 3-4 days?
      Do you keep your phone switched off?
      I would love a fuel cell which can power my phone for a full year.
      I will pay good money to forget the stupid charger.
      And i would love a fuel cell for my iBook G4.

    • and how long does your laptop battery last?
  • I dunno, maybe because it's too early, but I read the headline as "Sorry to Unveil..." and all I could think was "it's okay, one of these day's we'll actually have an alternative power source."

    need coffee...

  • does it run Linux?

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