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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 07:00 GMT 08:00 UK
Laptops with fuel cells approach
Prototype fuel cell, AFP
Early versions add weight to svelte laptops
Get ready for a laptop that can run for eight hours between recharges.

IBM and Sanyo are working on a hybrid power system for portable computers that combines batteries with a methanol fuel cell.

But the extra working life comes at a cost because early versions will resemble a bulky docking station that will add to the weight of the device.

IBM and Sanyo said the first hybrid power packs should go on sale in 2006 or 2007.

Battery bet

The two firms said that, once finished, the power pack would work with future and existing IBM Thinkpad notebooks without them needing to be modified.

The methanol fuel cell uses methanol and oxygen to generate power and is one of several technologies vying to replace lithium ion batteries that are commonplace today.

It is widely accepted that all possible power has been squeezed out of lithium ion batteries and alternatives are needed if laptop life is to extend beyond eight hours between recharges.

Recharging the fuel cell will simply require inserting another canister of methanol.

Sanyo cautioned that it would take time to get a good supply of methanol cartridges in place to make launching such a system commercially viable.

Mitsuru Homma, the chief of Sanyo's power unit, said the hybrid power pack should be available within two years.

The docking station holding the fuel cell and battery combination will make a Thinkpad one-third to one-half thicker and deeper.

Sanyo expected the pack to be popular in offices to allow laptops to run processor-intensive programs that would otherwise drain battery life very quickly.

Sanyo and IBM face strong competition on fuel cells because many firms are working on ways to shrink the systems to fit laptops and even handheld computers.

Both Toshiba and NEC are expected to start selling their fuel cells later this year. NEC said its fuel cell could power a laptop for 40 hours between recharges.

However, it is thought that any device wanting to use the fuel cell will have to be modified.

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Nokia halts mobile fuel cell plan
04 Mar 05 |  Science/Nature
Toshiba develops tiny fuel cell
24 Jun 04 |  Technology
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01 Oct 04 |  Click Online
Apple laptop is 'greatest gadget'
22 Feb 05 |  Technology

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