Micropower Heats Up: Propane fuel cell packs a lot of punch

1:58pm, June 8, 2005

Portable electronics such as laptops and MP3 players could soon run on miniature fuel cells that consume propane, the same fuel used in gas barbecues. In search of longer-lasting alternatives to conventional batteries, a team of researchers has developed just such a device.

"A propane-driven fuel cell could be the same size as a lithium battery but last 10 times longer," says Paul Ronney of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Other groups have previously developed fuel cells for portable electronics. However, most of these run on methanol (SN: 9/7/02, p. 155: Pocket Sockets). Propane and other large hydrocarbons are more desirable because their larger molecules pack more energy and can be easily stored as liquids rather than as pressurized gases. A small cartridge of liquid propane under moderate pressure could feed a fuel cell for days. Most batteries require recharging after only several hours of continuous use.

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