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Solar Modules May Ensure Mobility for Wireless Devices

Germany's Fraunhofer Institute is busy developing prototypes for highly efficient solar modules and fuel cells that promise to ensure total mobility for wireless devices.

Up until know total wireless mobility has been restricted to the fickle lifespan of rechargeable battery packs. All this could change, however, with the Fraunhofer Institute's next-generation solar cells and hydrogen-powered fuel cell systems.

Recently Fraunhofer demonstrated the efficiency of their new-fangled solar modules by running a Casio palmtop computer and a Siemens mobile phone from attachable solar units.

"These solar cells are highly efficient, so even low sunlight or a halogen lamp should be enough to keep them alive," promised Dr. Christopher Hebling, who leads the Institute's energy and technology department.

Currently Fraunhofer is looking to partner with manufacturers of portable devices (such as mobile phones or PDAs) and producers of accessories (like batteries and solar cells) in order to bring its solar technology to market.

To drive more energy-hungry laptops and other wireless devices like Camcorders, Fraunhofer is perfecting hydrogen-powered fuel cell systems that fit into regular battery slots. These fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into energy and leave a by-product of water that is converted by an additional mechanism into damp air.

At present the Institute is capable of powering a 30-watt laptop computer for about one to two hours with its hydrogen batteries. It hopes, however, to perfect these hydrogen fuel cells so that they can drive a powerful laptop for 10 hours at a stretch. This will be achieved by fitting them with rechargeable metal-hydride containers that hold enough hydrogen for 10 hours worth of operating time.

Hebling believes that, if mass-produced, these new-fangled fuel cells could be significantly cheaper than rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and give mobility a new meaning.