DoCoMo to buy stake in fuel cell company

Associated Press Writer

Japan's largest mobile phone company plans to buy a large stake in a fuel cell maker to develop handsets with longer-lasting hydrogen-powered batteries that are friendly to the environment.

Tokyo-based NTT DoCoMo Inc. said it will buy a 36.5 percent stake in Aquafairy Co. through newly issued shares. Both companies are already developing a micro fuel cell recharger for DoCoMo's latest 3G FOMA handsets based on Aquafairy's hydrogen fuel cell technology. This week's announcement is likely to deepen their collaboration.

The move comes as DoCoMo and other mobile phone companies look for ways to extend talking hours and standby times as they pack new gadgets with power-hungry features like the video, Internet and digital camera capabilities found in FOMA.

Because fuel cells generate power, instead of simply storing it, by combining hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, the technology can overcome limitations of other batteries, such as the presence of hazardous metals or chemicals.

The arrival of fuel cells would eliminate the need for lithium ion batteries, which have been the subject of recalls by laptop makers Dell Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. after a few fires involving improperly manufactured batteries.

Lithium ion batteries also take time to recharge. Fuel cell systems, by contrast, are recharged simply by replacing methanol fuel cartridges, the source of the hydrogen, or by refilling them with fuel.

But fuel cells must still overcome such hurdles as water diffusion, a byproduct of electricity generation, and the handling of highly flammable hydrogen before they can be commercially successful in consumer electronics.

The Aquafairy deal follows a similar project DoCoMo launched with Japanese electronics firm Fujitsu Ltd. in 2004. It was not immediately clear how this week's announcement would affect the Fujitsu partnership.

Aquafairy is an Osaka-based start up that was founded earlier this year to develop and markets micro fuel cells.

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