LONDON -- A small British technology company on Thursday claimed to be on the verge of unlocking the vast potential of fuel cells as a commercially viable source of green energy.
Cambridge-based CMR Fuel Cells said it had made a breakthrough with a new design of fuel cell which is a tenth of the size of existing models and small enough to replace conventional batteries in laptop computers.
"We firmly believe CMR technology is the equivalent of the jump from transistors to integrated circuits," said John Halfpenny, the firm's chief executive.
Fuel cells have for years been touted as the next big green power source. They produce electricity via a chemical reaction and emit only tiny amounts of carbon dioxide -- the main greenhouse gas blamed by many scientists for global warming.
Coal and gas-fired power stations produce far more CO2.
But high costs and doubts about widespread availability of fuel -- usually hydrogen -- have held back the technology's transition to the mainstream despite years of research by energy firms and the automotive industry.
CMR said the new design would run for four times longer than conventional batteries in a laptop or other devices like power tools.
"It's also instantly rechargable," said Michael Priestnall, chief technology officer at CMR. Priestnall and chief engineer Michael Evans came up with the design while working at Cambridge-based consultancy Generics Group.
Evans said the design, which would run initially on methanol, was based on new type of fuel stack which mixed air and fuel. Up to now fuel stacks have relied on complete separation of the two.
Halfpenny said CMR was in talks about possible demonstrations for the U.S. Defense Department.
CMR is backed by venture capitalists including Conduit Ventures, a specialist fund backed by Shell Hydrogen, Johnson Matthey, Mitsubishi, Danfoss and Solvay.