Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

BATTERY OF THE FUTURE? UNF Receives a Defense Grant to Develop a Fuel Cell for Military Laptops

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

BATTERY OF THE FUTURE? UNF Receives a Defense Grant to Develop a Fuel Cell for Military Laptops

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID HUNT

Think of all those portable electronics you love dying at just the wrong time.

Cell phone batteries that cut calls. Portable music players that kick the band off stage during even the wildest guitar solo. Laptop computers that can't keep a DVD spinning past the action-packed scene helping you forget you're on a plane and hate to fly.

Researchers at the University of North Florida are embarking on a project that could result in longer battery life for all of the above.

The work starts with military computers.

On Monday, the university announced receiving $2 million in defense funding to develop a direct methanol fuel cell-powered laptop. The power source, which is in the early development stages, may be able to supply 10 times the life of a traditional battery.

Jim Fletcher, a UNF engineering professor working on the project, said the technology will be crucial for soldiers in the field, but the research could be a boon for consumer electronics producers as well.

"You have a discrepancy between what electronics could do and what the power source enables them to do," Fletcher said. "There's a lot of need. ... You could imagine an ever evolving design. We want to continue to develop this."

UNF is working on the project with PolyFuel, a California-based fuel membrane engineering company.

The project starts this spring, although Fletcher said the groundwork to do the research evolved in discussions between UNF and PolyFuel over the past several years. He said he anticipates three to four years of work before a finished product.

Fletcher likened the fuel cell to an internal combustion engine. Unlike traditional batteries, the device would produce energy rather than store it.

The power source requires refills, not recharges. It runs on methanol, a chemical compound that can be harnessed from a variety of sources including natural gas and wood. …

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