Laptops, PDAs and phones powered by hydrogen are not yet a commercial reality. But micro fuel cells (MFCs) that can replace batteries in portable electronics are in development, and the majority of companies leading the pack are Japanese.
Who are they, and how have they taken a commanding position in this potentially huge market?
According to Atakan Ozbek, ABI Research's director of energy research, they are the likes of Hitachi, NEC and Toshiba: giant manufacturers of consumer electronics for the world, as well as the batteries that power them (as well as a few major companies that intentionally maintain a lower profile.)
Ozbek characterizes them as "nimble," capitalizing on their established position making the very devices that first-generation commercial MFCs will power. "Once they focus on something," he says, "these companies can increase their development effort significantly, which our research is now confirming."
"They know all there is to know about their own products' power demands," he adds. "They are showing rapid progress in making MFCs smaller and lighter, more powerful and reliable—critical not only for civilian use, but for the large and important military market."
Meanwhile, they are laying down the international regulatory framework required to make such devices viable worldwide.
ABI Research's 2004 study "Micro Fuel Cells" evaluates major end user market applications for North America, Europe and Japan. It gives growth projections for the next seven years, and evaluates international regulatory developments.
The Japanese do not have this field all to themselves. In the United States, MTI Micro Fuel Cells Inc., Medis Technologies Ltd. and a few other firms are also active.
Next year, the major Japanese firms will release limited numbers of MFC-powered portable devices to test populations. Later, high-end consumers will begin to adopt them, but mass-market acceptance will probably take until 2008 or later.
For more information, visit www.abiresearch.com.