MTI’s Fuel Cell Chip Beefs Up & Slims Down

Fuel cells, whether they’re made for your car or your cell phone, always seem just around the corner, but MTI MicroFuel Cells [s MKTY] hopes to put full cells in your hand soon. The company announced today that it has improved the power performance of its Mobion chip by 25 percent and decreased its size by an equal measure compared to the previous iteration. This is the third generation of the Mobion chip, which debuted at the start of 2007, but a commercial version won’t been seen until at least 2009, when the company hopes to start selling its micro fuel cell to OEMs who could put them into devices ranging from GPS units to cell phones to MP3 players.

The Mobion Chip isn’t exactly like the chip you semi-con nuts know and love. MTI calls its chip the “fuel cell engine core,” and it’s where the vital membrane assembly lives that splits the methanol fuel to generate electricity. Consequently it’s also where much of MTI’s IP is. The chip is one injection-molded component, making it easy to manufacture, MTI says. It only comes in one size — 9 6.75 cubic centimeters weighing less than an ounce — but can be put into an array for different power options for different applications.

The fuel cell is powered by pure methanol, which differentiates it from that of other methanol fuel-cell makers who usually dilute the alcohol with water. MTI CEO Peng Lim explained to us last year that diluting the methanol decreases the chip’s power. When the MTI cell is depleted, the empty methanol cartridge can be swapped out for a new one for less than the cost of a cup of coffee. These cartridges would have to be small, less than 3 cubic centimeters fluid ounces, in order be allowed on airplanes, a requirement MTI has to be meet to be truly mobile.

We’re glad to hear MTI is still improving the functionality of its cell, and getting the size of the cell down is something the company has said it’s been working for months. But we won’t get too excited until we see one on the store shelves. We just want to make sure that while MTI is fine-tuning the innards of the fuel cell they are indeed still on-track for deployment next year.