Science Scope

Apple patents spell fuel-cell-powered laptops, smartphones

Posting in Energy

As if its gadgets weren't popular enough already. Apple has submitted patents that would enable its portable devices to go weeks without recharging.

As if its gadgets weren't popular enough already: Apple could be working on devices that can go weeks without recharging.

On Thursday, the company filed patents for "a portable and cost-effective fuel cell system for a portable computing device."

Fuel cells, in their most common form, convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, leaving water as a byproduct. They are an appealing energy source because they don't rely on fossil fuels and because they can pack a lot of energy into a small volume compared to a battery.

Apple cites “our country’s continuing reliance on fossil fuels,” the "hazards of offshore drilling," and the U.S.'s "complicated political and military relationship with unstable governments in the Middle East"  as some of the reasons for the patents. (Full disclosure: I own Apple stock.)

While fuel cell technology is nothing new, integrating it into a laptop or a smartphone, as these patents propose, would be groundbreaking.

So far, fuel cell technology has been used in NASA space satellites and certain types of vehicles such as cars, boats and submarines. There have even been some fuel cell products developed to charge electronics, but they are usually used for portable charging, meaning the consumer carries a fuel cartridge to recharge a portable device.

The Apple patents envision fuel cells built into the electronics that would work with a rechargeable battery, both receiving and providing power to it. This is how the system would work, according to Apple's patent filing:

This fuel cell system includes a fuel cell stack which converts fuel into electrical power. It also includes a fuel source for the fuel cell stack and a controller which controls operation of the fuel cell system. The fuel system also includes an interface to the portable computing device, wherein the interface comprises a power link that provides power to the portable computing device, and a bidirectional communication link that provides bidirectional communication between the portable computing device and the controller for the fuel cell system.

Considering the grumblings of consumers over the battery life of their new iPhones, the technology that these patents propose could put a lot of complaints to rest.

via: Time, Telegraph

photo: Sir Stig/Wikimedia

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Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure