The Future of Charging Gadgets? Toshiba's Methanol Fuel Cell Is Promising, Flawed

As mentioned last week, Toshiba's first batch of 3,000 direct-methanol fuel cell (DMFC) chargers—the first from a major manufacturer—hit Japan on Thursday. The IDG News Service has been testing one, and here are their first impressions:

Some quick background: DMFCs produce electricity from a reaction of methanol, water, and air—the only by products are a small amount of water vapor and carbon dioxide. You refill the fuel cell with a few squirts of methanol, and presto, you're able to charge gadgets without a wall socket.

The idea has been in development for 10 years, and Toshiba says that they're "seriously considering and researching the next model to [be available for the] worldwide market."

IDGNS tested the new Dynario charger on gear like the PSP and iPod, and say it pretty much does its job flawlessly—though it won't support every device you connect to its USB socket, including the iPhone. Toshiba has a list, and says about four out of five gadgets should work.

The ¥29,800 (roughly $325) charger is about the size of a PSP, and has a brushed metal finish. It has a small battery to "kick start" the power generation, which charges itself in operation.

50ml refill bottles/cartridges come in packs of 5 for ¥3150 (about $35), so clearly this isn't cost-effective yet. IDGNS says each methanol bottle is good for about 3.5 refills, and each refill charges a cellphone twice.

And while the charger itself is cleared for airline travel, the methanol bottles aren't. Toshiba hopes to sell them at airports for quick charges before or after flights. So travel aside, maybe the technology has more potential for emergency kits for use in blackouts and natural disasters? Time will tell. [PC World]