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Search for better phone power

By CNN's Phil O'Sullivan

Toshiba unveiled this tiny direct methanol fuel cell in June.
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Technology (general)
Wireless Phones

TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- A mobile phone is no longer just a phone -- it is also a music player, video camera and personal organizer.

And mobile phones with television programming are just around the corner.

But the more functions cell phone manufacturers add, the greater the amount of power the phones use and the less practical running them on lithium batteries becomes -- so the race to find a viable alternative is on.

Two of the world's biggest electronics makers, Hitachi and Toshiba, are currently competing against each other to come up with an alternative, most likely to be micro fuel cells.

The task has been set by Japan's second largest mobile phone provider, KDDI, which wants its customers to soon be able to use special television programming on their handsets, and has asked the two electronics companies to come up with a better power source.

Hitomi Murakami, of KDDI, says battery-operated mobile phones cannot keep up with the new applications.

"We're looking at various ways to expand content and services that we can provide to the people. And we don't want to have battery issues delaying us from doing that," he says.

Hitachi's Atsushi Morihara says it is a critical race for both of the companies as the resulting product will have a major impact on the mobile market in the future.

"We are in competition and it's up to both of us to come up with a good product. A product that will satisfy KDDI's needs. I think I can go as far to say that the winner will take all."

Miniaturized direct methanol fuel cells are different batteries in that they create power instead of simply storing it.

That power is made by new technology utilizing cheap methanol.

If all goes to plan, come 2007, Japanese phone users will not use an electric charger to power their mobiles, they will instead carry a small bottle of methanol and with just a few squirts, they will have power for their phones.

But the method has its downsides, including how passengers will be able to take small amounts of flammable methanol on airliners.

Negotiations are already underway with authorities to get around current restrictions.

Fumio Ueno of Toshiba says that once developed, the uses of miniaturized direct methanol fuel cells have endless possibilities.

"I think we will have new types of devices that do not exist now."

Illinois-based company Renew Power has said it has already come up with a fuel cell compatible with mobile phones, by using formic acid, the chemical sprayed by black ants on the attack.

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