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Apple is investigating hydrogen fuel cells in mobile devices as an alternative to current battery charging technology, in part to extend battery life, but also to be more environmentally friendly.
Apple patents always relate to the technology or systems that make it possible to use that technology, and sometimes they are specifically aimed at devices such as the MacBook Pro. The newly granted “Portable computing device for external fuel cell control” is all of that, but it is also unusual in the way it exposes both the environmental and political concerns that prompted it.
“Our country’s continued dependence on fossil fuels has forced our government to have complicated political and military relations with unstable governments in the Middle East,” says Apple’s patent, “and has also exposed our coasts and our citizens to dangers associated with offshore drilling. “
“These problems have led to a growing awareness and desire on the part of consumers to promote and use renewable energy sources,” he continues. “As a result of this increased consumer awareness, electronics manufacturers have become very interested in developing renewable energy sources for their products, and they have explored a number of promising renewable energy sources such as batteries. hydrogen fuel. “
Apple isn’t exactly saying that hydrogen fuel cells are the perfect battery for the future, but it does list exactly why it calls the technology “promising.”
“Hydrogen fuel cells have a number of advantages,” says Apple. “Such fuel cells and associated fuels have the potential to achieve high volumetric and gravity energy densities, which can potentially allow portable electronic devices to operate continuously for days or even weeks without refueling.” “
You know there has to be a “but” or we would already be using these cells. “[But] it is extremely difficult to design hydrogen fuel cell systems that are portable and cost effective enough to be used with portable electronic devices, ”says Apple.
That’s what this patent is supposed to solve. It is “the design of a portable, cost-effective fuel cell system for a portable computing device,” which converts fuel – such as hydrogen – into electrical energy.
The research contains many possible solutions for generating power and getting it into the device, including a reference to a MagSafe type connector. In each case, however, the idea is that a “fuel cell … produces electricity by converting a source fuel … into electric current and waste.”
Where the patent varies is in the precise details of this fuel cell and how the energy is generated. For example, one example proposes that “fuel cells can be proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells that use hydrogen as fuel”. Another suggests that the cell “may be solid oxide fuel cells, molten carbonate fuel cells, direct methanol fuel cells, alkaline fuel cells and / or other types of fuel cells. “.
Beyond the claim that a functioning system like this could power a device “for days or even weeks”, there is no other estimate of battery life. There is also no indication of the exact state of progress of Apple in implementing the solutions of the patent.
Apple has a long history of researching power and battery technologies. He even filed for patents on the use of hydrogen eight years ago.
This newly granted patent is assigned to six inventors, all of whom have prior patents in the same field, relating to fuel cell systems specifically for small appliances. This includes Bradley L. Spare, Vijay M. Iyer and Jean L. Lee, who are together also credited on “Fuel cell system coupled to a portable computing device”.