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e-business: It's good nano-news for laptop computers.

A new type of fuel cell developed in Japan could put paid to the Achilles heel of laptop computers.

Current batteries can only provide power for a few hours of continual use - but the tiny new cell could provide sufficient power for several days.

The cell has been developed by the giant NEC Corporation and the Japan Science and Technology Corporation. It uses carbon nanotubes as electrodes, as opposed to conventional designs which use activated carbon. That gives it about ten times the energy capacity of a lithium battery.

Carbon nanotubes are a completely new carbon system material, which was discovered in 1991 by one of NEC's research fellows, Sumio Iijima. They are expected to become the typical raw material for nano-technology, applied to such broad fields as, hydrogen storage, composite materials and electron devices.

This time the research group focusing on the detailed structure of the carbon nanotube examined the possibility of applying it to fuel cell electrodes, confirming that the nanotube has the possibility of clearly surpassing raw materials used to date.

NEC says the carbon nanotubes used for the experimental manufacturing are named 'nanohorns' due to their irregular horn-like shape. They were discovered three years ago by Dr Iijima's research group.

Nanohorns have the same graphitic carbon atom structure as normal carbon nanotubes. The main characteristic of the carbon nanohorns is that when many of the nanohorns group together an aggregate - a secondary particle - of about 100 nanometers is created.

This brings a number of advantages - the main one being that when used as an electrode for a fuel cell, not only is the surface area extremely large, but also it is easy for the gas and liquid to permeate to the inside.

In addition, compared with normal nanotubes because the nanohorns are easily prepared with high purity it is expected to become a low-cost raw material.

Until now since the discovery of the carbon nanotube, although it has been acknowledged as having a high possibility of being applied to semiconductors, flat-panel displays, lightweight and high-strength raw material and fuel cells, it had stopped at the fundamental research stage.

However, with this new development NEC is taking the first step for the practical utilisation of carbon nanotube and big steps towards the development and expansion of nano-technology.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 11, 2001
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