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September 30, 2005
Olympus Signs Contract with QinetiQ Covering
Research into Hydrogen-Powered Energy Technology
for Compact High-Output Fuel Cells
Olympus Corporation (President: Tsuyoshi Kikukawa) has signed a research contract with QinetiQ Limited of Farnborough, Hampshire, U.K.(Chief Executive: Sir John Chisholm). QinetiQ, Europe’s biggest science and technology research organization, will carry out research into next-generation hydrogen fuel system suitable for use with fuel cells. The aim is to develop compact, high-output hydrogen fuel cells capable of prolonged operation for use in the portable consumer devices needed for the ubiquitous information environment of the future. The research plan calls for the completion, by 2008, of a prototype compact hydrogen generator*1 capable of producing hydrogen from ammonia borane*2, a solid fuel that is 20% hydrogen and offers excellent energy efficiency. Olympus will then conduct research into the use of hydrogen fuel cells in sensor networking*3 and ubiquitous information systems, which are now being developed by its Future Creation Laboratory, and in a variety of portable consumer equipment.
*1  Compact hydrogen generator: A hydrogen generator produces hydrogen gas for hydrogen fuel cells directly from fuel. In the past hydrogen has mainly been produced in factories and supplied in bottles or other containers. Size and weight are problems with this method.
*2 Ammonia borane: This substance is a white solid consisting of hydrogen, nitrogen and boron. It is commonly used as a chemical reducing agent. It is stable at normal temperatures but releases hydrogen when heated. Ammonia borane is non-toxic, environment-friendly and recyclable.
*3 Sensor networking system: This is a system that will facilitate equipment control and environmental monitoring via large numbers of sensors, such as fixed point cameras, with communication capabilities.
Increases in the speed and functionality of portable devices will lead to a dramatic increase in their power requirements. The market for fuel cells for use in mobile telephones, computers, digital cameras and other portable consumer devices is expected to reach $11 billion (approximately ¥1.2 trillion) by 2013*4. The limited operating times of the batteries currently used in portable devices is seen as a barrier to future growth in the use of these devices. One concept that has attracted international interest as a possible solution to this problem is the direct methanol fuel cell*5. While such devices are currently under development, many issues must be resolved before they can match the practicality of lithium-ion batteries. A hydrogen fuel cell fueled by ammonia borane would be both compact and capable of high power output (up to 10 watts). This technology has the potential to supply stable power over long periods, even to devices subject to large fluctuations in peak power demand, such as 4G mobile telephones.
*4  This estimate is based on data from Wintergreen Research, Inc.
*5 Direct methanol fuel cell: These devices use a chemical reaction to generate electricity from methanol supplied directly to the fuel cell.
QinetiQ has developed technology based on the use of a solid fuel, ammonia borane, which is approximately 20% hydrogen. When this fuel is heated, hydrogen is released and supplied to the fuel cell, which uses it to generate electricity. The fuel would be supplied in pellet form in replaceable cartridges for instant refueling.
Corporate Profiles
Established in 1919, Olympus manufactures and sells precision machinery and instruments for medical and healthcare, imaging and information and industrial applications. Its core competency is opto-digital technology, which is a fusion of traditional optical technology with advanced digital and fine processing technologies.
Olympus established its Future Creation Laboratory in April 2003 to envision the future and create new value based on the Olympus “Social IN” management philosophy. While the Corporate R&D Center focuses on developments over the next 3-5 years, the Future Creation Laboratory has a research horizon of 5-10 years or even longer. Its mission is to explore the core competencies needed for future business activities.
Researchers at the Future Creation Laboratory do not simply base their research and development activities on predictions of future technological developments. Instead they aim to add value to future lifestyles by creating the future. The Laboratory’s main fields of research are humanware, bioscience, optical nanotechnology and ubiquitous energy. Ubiquitous energy research focuses on ways to free users of portable equipment from the threat of battery depletion. Fuel cell technology is seen as a potential solution to this problem.
QinetiQ is Europe’s biggest science and technology research organization. It employs nearly 10,000 staff, including some of Britain’s leading scientists and internationally acclaimed experts. Its wide-ranging research and development activities encompass fields as diverse as energy, telecommunications, automotive technology, rail technology, electrical and electronic technology, aerospace, health, oil and gas, information technology and defense.
QinetiQ’s heritage includes pioneering research and development in key areas of technology, such as liquid crystal displays (LCDs), carbon fiber, flat panel speaker technology, infra-red sensors, ultrasonic radar, and a fetal heart monitoring system. Its contributions to the well-being of people throughout the world include numerous advances in the fields of healthcare and passenger safety and transportation technology.
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