The search for a viable alternative to conventional nickel cadmium and lithium ion batteries is on as the power consumption requirements of laptops and portable computing devices in all their modern guises increases.

As in the automotive world, fuel cell technology is seen as the solution to the power demands of the next-generation of portable computers and Hitachi - which is among several companies experimenting with prototypes - is stepping up it search with the announcement that it will produce a commercial methanol fuel for laptops in 2005.

Developing the technology in conjunction with disposable-lighter maker Toukai, Hitachi has reportedly produced a prototype the size of an AA battery that could power a PDA for up to eight hours.

Fuel cells generate electricity through a chemical reaction between oxygen and a fuel, such as hydrogen or methanol and can continue to produce electricity as long as there is fuel 'in the tank.'

Casio, Toshiba, NEC and NTT DoCoMo also have plans to bring fuel cell batteries to market, predominantly using methanol as the fuel.

Fuel cell technology is already available in portable form: Voller energy in the UK recently released a portable hydrogen fuel cell power-pack that can be used to recharge laptops or tools on worksites.