Samsung Pact Fuels Battery Development

Can a small-town David eventually power an industry Goliath?

MTI Micro Fuel Cells thinks so, and made a pact with Samsung Electronics to develop micro fuel cells for mobile systems. Financial terms of the deal were undisclosed.

Under terms of the deal, MTI, developer of Mobion micro fuel cell technology, will work with Samsung to develop, test and evaluate Mobion technology for various mobile phone applications, MTI said in a statement.

The companies will work to overcome some of the restraints of current lithium-ion devices by shrinking MTI’s battery technology, which relies on methanol fuel and water to generate power for mobile phones and small, personal devices.

These batteries can be recharged by inserting fresh methanol fuel cartridges into the battery, much like new razor cartridges are slipped into a non-electric shaver, Allan Soucy, MTI’s chief corporate strategist, told

“The fuel cell itself will stay with the unit forever. What the user will do is replace the fuel cartridge with another containing methanol, which will power the fuel cell,” he explained.

The Samsung deal is not expected to result in any actual products for at least two years, and wide-scale availability a few years after that.

Also, there are still no reliable metrics comparing the efficiencies of fuel cells versus good old lithium-ion battery technology.

Soucy declined to offer any comparisons in terms of battery life or effectiveness, although he did say that one-to-one results will be released in the third quarter.

Battery technology is currently one of the major challenges to mobile device development. The design a battery that is small enough to fit into a compact device, but powerful enough to last for days or weeks between charges.

“Battery technology doesn’t seem to follow Moore’s law and is limited by capacity,” said David Werezak, vice president of enterprise business at Research in Motion (RIM), in an earlier interview with “The expectation is that it’s not going to double in the next 18 months. It moves along much slower than that.”

There are also some fuel cell battery skeptics who question the safety of methanol-powered devices. “I’m not going to knowingly get on an airplane with someone carrying methane or
another flammable liquid,” said Craig Mathias, principal analyst with Farpoint Group.

MTI Micro has tinkered with methanol fuel cell technology for several years, demonstrating the first prototypes of a battery for mobile devices as early as 2002.

The small company also has had its eye on U.S. government applications for some time, looking to provide a battery fix for military applications.

Late last year it signed an Early Adopter Alliance Agreement with a large military OEM to find ways to use the company’s battery technology in ground sensor products and navigate government contracting and product qualification processes, said the company.

The company also has a number of government research projects in play, including $470,000 in funding from the U.S. Army Communications and Electronics Command to develop a hybrid solar power system, as well as a $98,000 contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop fuel cells for its satellite communications terminals.

The New York State Energy Research & Development Authority also doled out $1.25 million in 2001 as part of a multi-phase contract to further develop MTI Micro’s technology.

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