Apple patents "Power" – literally
Battery life span has always been a major concern for many electronics manufacturers. Recently, Apple has come up with a technology that can extend the life of a portable computing device to several days or even weeks with the use of fuel cells without needing to be plugged in. Apple filed a patent application (US 20150249280) in March which has already been awarded by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
The patent application entitled “Fuel Cell System to Power a Portable Computing Device” discloses a portable and cost-effective fuel cell system for a portable computing device, comprising a fuel cell stack which converts fuel to electrical power, a fuel source for the fuel cell stack and an interface to the portable device which includes a power link providing power to the portable device and a bidirectional communication link providing communication between the portable device and a fuel cell stack’s controller which sends fuel state information to the portable device and receives fuel cell control information.
According to the patent application, the fuel could take the form of pure hydrogen (e.g., compressed hydrogen gas or liquid hydrogen), in which case, the fuel cartridge may contain components such as a metering device (e.g., a valve) and a pressure gauge. Ideally, the fuel has a relatively low life cycle carbon footprint which is non toxic, and generates a waste product that is amenable to being repeatedly re-charged with hydrogen.
Apple in one of its interviews stated that, beyond Hydrogen or Hydrocarbons, fuel cells may alternatively correspond to solid oxide fuel cells, molten carbonate fuel cells, direct methanol fuel cells, alkaline fuel cells, and/or other types of fuel cells.
This idea integrates fuel cell electricity generation technology into portable computing devices for which it’s difficult to provide cost-effective and portable fuel cell systems, as the patent application itself points out.
This is not the first time Apple has turned to an alternative source of power for its devices. Several reports indicated that Apple has been working closely with a British firm called Intelligent Energy, who have been tweaking with the iPhone 6 prototype with their own patented fuel cell system that makes it last for an entire week. Based on the reports, there are no changes to the iPhone’s appearance despite the addition of the fuel cell system, except for a rear vent from which heat and vapor are allowed to escape.
A fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, heat, and water. Fuel cells are often compared to batteries. Both convert the energy produced by a chemical reaction into usable electric power. However, the fuel cell will produce electricity as long as fuel (hydrogen) is supplied, never losing its charge. Fuel cells are a promising technology for use as a source of heat and electricity for buildings, and as an electrical power source for electric motors propelling vehicles. But by applying this technology to cell phones, Apple is seeking to revolutionize the future of portable energy. The only thing we hope is that the technology rids us of the annoying charging every now and then.
Authored by Subhashree Sahoo
Contributed by Electronics, Telecommunications and Software division of BananaIP