An iPhone with various cords and network tether cables running between the phone and an Apple laptop computer.
The Apple iPhone: Soon powered by hydrogen fuel cells? (CC BY-SA/roens/Flickr)

Battery technology in consumer electronic devices has improved significantly over the years. However, the power demands of modern multimedia mean that battery life is still largely inadequate for consumers on the move. According to Mashable, hydrogen fuel cells that convert oxygen and hydrogen into water, heat and electricity may eventually be the lightweight battery solution smartphone, tablet and laptop users have craved.

Apple has filed two patents

Records on file at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Va., indicate that Apple has already had two different battery technology patents published. The patents reportedly sketch out in detail how hydrogen fuel cells might soon provide power for smartphones, laptops, tablets and more in the near future.

Hydrogen fuel cells aren’t a new invention. In the automotive world, hydrogen fuel systems empower various Honda vehicles. It’s a technology that is not without its drawbacks, particularly on a smaller scale. In its patent application, Apple noted:

“It is extremely challenging to design hydrogen fuel cell systems which are sufficiently portable and cost-effective to be used with portable electronic devices.”

A new solution

Getting smaller hydrogen fuel cells to work may be challenging, but to Apple, it’s far from impossible. One of the applications describes the following:

“A fuel cell system which is capable of both providing power to and receiving power from a rechargeable battery in a portable computing device. This eliminates the need for a bulky and heavy battery within the fuel cell system, which can significantly reduce the size, weight and cost of the fuel cell system.”

Apple speculates that such a hydrogen-fueled system could conceivably provide days or even weeks of power to an electronic device used under heavy output.

A question of when

While battery manufacturers are on the cusp of advancement in hydrogen fuel cell technology, there are currently no estimates as to when such technology will be available to consumers. Hydrogen-powered iPhones and MacBooks are probably a long way off. As one user comment on the Techtree blog seems to indicate, there is some question as to whether Apple is simply preparing for future patent trolling expeditions:

“Sounds to me like this patent is vaporware whose main function is to sue whoever actually builds this hydrogen fuel cell computer in the future.”

How hydrogen fuel cells work

Sources

Mashable: http://mashable.com/2011/12/26/iphone-hydrogen-cells/

Techtree: http://www.techtree.com/India/News/Apple_Files_Patents_For_Fuel_Cell_Technology/551-116281-547.html

Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/8975382/Apple-plots-smartphones-powered-by-hydrogen.html

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