GT Spectrum

Reports from the IT Horizon

by / May 21, 2003 0
Say Good-Bye to Batteries?
TOKYO -- Toshiba is developing fuel cells for portable PCs that could end reliance on rechargeable batteries. The tiny devices, known as direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC), run on a mixture of methbanol and water, generating an average of 12 watts and a maximum of 20 watts.

In March, the company unveiled a prototype for a DMFC small enough to power laptop PCs. Toshiba exhibited the device -- the first of its type in the world, according to the company -- at CeBIT in Hannover, Germany.

The technology may solve an emerging problem. Today's mobile devices -- loaded with faster CPUs, higher resolution displays, wireless connectivity and other power-hungry features -- tax the limits of current lithium-ion batteries.

Although fuel cells are widely seen as a replacement for batteries, companies developing them face challenges in miniaturization and fuel delivery, Toshiba said. Fuel cells are most efficient using a 3 percent to 6 percent methanol solution mixed with water, but that concentration requires a fuel tank much too large for use with portable devices.

Toshiba researchers overcame the problem by developing a system that uses a higher concentration of methanol, which is diluted by water formed as a byproduct of the power generation process. The technique reduces fuel tank size to less than 1/10 of that required for storing the same volume of methanol in a 3 percent to 6 percent concentration.

Toshiba's DMFC prototype operates approximately 5 hours on a 50 cc cartridge of high-concentration methanol fuel.

Researchers said one of their main concerns in developing the DMFC was assuring that the fuel cell would generate the required power with minimal waste of energy. Toshiba said it investigated such factors as fuel density, circulation and air supply levels to map the best operating conditions for a miniaturized fuel cell.

Also, the PC sends information on its operating status to the fuel cell to balance power demand and supply. Any unused energy is stored in the DMFC and can be drawn on when the PC requires extra power.

Toshiba, which intends to commercialize the device by 2004, has given the DMFC the same electrodes found in lithium-ion batteries, allowing it to connect directly to a PC or other portable device in the same way as a lithium-ion battery.

Big Investment in Miniature Technology
MURRAY HILL, N.J. -- New Jersey has invested $2 million in nanotechnology development, hoping to capture a slice of what could become a $1 trillion industry within a decade.

The New Jersey Nanotechnology Consortium (NJNC) opened its doors in April, backed by corporate, academic and government participation. NJNC website will develop cost-effective nanotechnology devices for a variety of industries, including the pharmaceutical, biomedical, electronic materials, optical/photonics, defense/aerospace, energy and semiconductor markets.

"Nanotechnology is no longer in the realm of science fiction. There are real-world nanotechnology applications and products that can be brought to market today, specifically in the areas of drug discovery, disease detection and electronics," said Dr. Omkaram Nalamasu, CTO of the NJNC.

The National Science Foundation predicts that innovations in nanotechnology will create a $1 trillion industry within 10 to 15 years, as companies learn to apply molecular-level engineering to medical treatments, communications, electronics, defense systems and other areas.

NJNC said it received $2 million in funding from the state of New Jersey for fiscal 2003.
"As a center of excellence, the NJNC is helping to build the critical infrastructure that will be needed to bring nanotechnology-based products to market," said Adam Pechter, president and CEO of Prosperity New Jersey, a state nonprofit organization working to create jobs and grow the economy by linking New Jersey's business, education and government communities.

NJNC already has more than six projects under way from private companies working to bring nanotechnology-based products to market, said Dr. Larry Thompson, NJNC's CEO.
"We believe the NJNC will become a focal point for nanotechnology development worldwide, especially as we expand our membership with new companies, academic institutions and government agencies," Thompson said.

NJNC is based at the New Jersey Nanofabrication Laboratory, a former Bell Labs facility in Murray Hill. Valued at more than $400 million, the submicron facility is the only fully operational 200 mm wafer fabrication facility dedicated to nanotechnology development in the United States.

Nations Join Forces for Progress
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In early March, Commerce Secretary Don Evans announced the launch of the Digital Freedom Initiative (DFI).

The goal of the DFI is to promote economic growth by transferring the benefits of information and communication technology to entrepreneurs and small businesses in the developing world. The DFI will be piloted in Senegal, a democratic secular country in which 94 percent of the population is Muslim.

"The Digital Freedom Initiative represents an exciting new model of how different parts of the federal government, the development community, the private sector and developing nations can join forces for progress," Evans said.

The DFI combines the leadership of the U.S. government, the creativity and resources of America's leading companies, and the vision and energy of entrepreneurs in developing countries. If the pilot project is successful, it could be rolled out to 20 countries over the next five years.

"The DFI reflects President Bush's determination to encourage innovative foreign assistance policies that encourage wealth creation, economic and political freedom, the rule of law, and human rights," Evans said.

Key elements include:

- Placing volunteers in small businesses to share knowledge and technology expertise.
- Promoting pro-growth regulatory and legal structures to enhance business competitiveness.
- Leveraging existing technology and communications infrastructure in new ways to help entrepreneurs and small businesses better compete in the regional and global market place.

Researchers Set Record for Data Transfer Speed
MENLO PARK, Calif. -- An international relay team of researchers recently set a new speed record for data transfer.

The team transferred 6.7 GB of uncompressed data -- the equivalent of 4 hours of DVD-quality movies -- at 923 Mbps for 58 seconds from Sunnyvale, Calif., to Amsterdam, a distance of almost 6,800 miles, or about a quarter of the way around the world.

The record-breaking transfer speed -- certified by the Internet2 consortium in mid-March -- is more than 3,500 times faster than a typical home Internet broadband connection.

The team included researchers from Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), Caltech, National Institute for Nuclear Physics and High Energy Physics in Amsterdam, and the Faculty of Science of the Universiteit van Amsterdam. The project used the advanced networking capabilities of TeraGrid, StarLight, SURFnet, NetherLight, Cisco and Level 3 Communications.

"This new world record for SLAC is an example of an Office of Science laboratory working collaboratively with industry to drive forward worldwide high-speed data transfer," said Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, director of the U.S. Energy Department's Office of Science. "It underlines the tradition in particle physics of groundbreaking work in manipulation and transfer of enormous datasets."

Cisco loaned $1 million worth of equipment for several months, and Level 3 provided the network and bandwidth supporting the research.

"Level 3's network infrastructure is ideally suited to expeditiously provide scalable bandwidth to the research community," said Paul Fernes, director of business development for Level 3. -- The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center
Shane Peterson Associate Editor