has reached an agreement with the Olympus Corporation to develop hydrogen generators for fuel cells for consumer portable devices.

The aim is to deliver a working prototype by 2008, which will enable compact, high power output (10 watts) and longer operating time. Some mobile phones and PDAs currently use around two watts of power. After 2008, further development work is planned with Olympus which is likely to be devoted to the practical application of fuel cells in a range of portable products and devices, pending the outcome of the initial research.

As makers of consumer technology press more functionality into ever smaller devices, energy requirements grow exponentially and traditional battery technology begins to reach its limits. Laptop makers are currently developing fuel cells to power their products, but early models are predicted to be heavier than lithium-ion batteries currently on the market, which is a major constraint.

The leading competitor to QinetiQ's research is methanol based fuel cells. These have been in development worldwide for some time, but many issues still remain for their widespread use. Issues such as how methanol fuel cells might be re-fuelled, and concerns surrounding the potential toxicity of methanol vapour.

QinetiQ research aims to eliminate these problems by using hydrogen fuel cells which use solid fuel. QinetiQ says these will yield more power from a smaller area, and allow devices to operate for a longer time. This will benefit small, power-hungry devices, such as 4G mobile phones and other digital products.

By 2013, the potential size of the fuel cell market for such portable devices is predicted to be $11 billion, according to independent market data from Wintergreen Research.