Dec 23, 2011

How viable is a fuel cell powered laptop?

Apparently, Apple recently filed a patent that suggests they are planning to power MacBooks with fuel cells.  It sounds great in concept; a laptop with days of battery life instead of a few hours.  Maybe I'm out of the fuel cell loop, but what I had heard recently about them was related to automobile manufactures trying to get them functional for use in vehicles, with varying success. Did I miss a generation or three of development, and are we now at the point where fuel cells could soon be seen in everyday items, or is this just Apple covering the bases for possible future development?



Apple, like many other large corporations, files patents all the time on things that will never see the light of day.  Why?  So competitors can't develop a technology and pass Apple by, or in the event that they do, they will have to pay boatloads of money to Apple for the pleasure to using Apple's "patented technology".  Heck, companies are sometime sought for takeover not because they have a brilliant business model or amazing products, but rather because they hold patents.  Google does this regularly.


As for the fuel cell powered laptop, I don't count Apple out, but I'm going to have to wait in the "interesting if true" camp.  The thing about hydrogen is, as far as I understand fuel cells, it needs to be stored under high pressure in order to have sufficient supply in a reasonable space.  That doesn't sound so bad, hey those little seltzer water makers use pressurized cartridges, right?  Difference is that you don't use hydrogen to make fizzy water.  But they did use hydrogen for dirigibles like the Hindenberg, and if I remember one fact about the Hindenberg it is this:  Flammable!  Now I'm sure Apple would make a laptop safer than the Hindenberg, after all mobile devices don't catch on fire.  Often.  


Maybe I'm way off, and the amount of hydrogen required will be so limited that it is not a serious concern.  And maybe the TSA will be cool with taking hydrogen fuel cartridges on planes when you take a business trip.  I actually would love to see this work; who wouldn't want a week or two of laptop battery life.  But I am skeptical that we will see this in the next 10 years, even though I hope Apples surprises me and makes me look like a neo-luddite.       


Well, if Apple is researching it then they probably already have decided to do something at some point. I think it would be great if we had laptops and other devices that lasted for a long, long time without another charge.

For those who want more on the Apple patent info, see this story. It has some neat diagrams included in it:

Apple Patent Applications Describe Fuel Cell-Powered Mobile Devices

"Apple is interested in making fuel cell-powered mobile devices, according to Apple patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

According to two published Apple patent applications, called "Fuel Cell System to Power a Portable Computing Device" and "Fuel Cell System Coupled to a Portable Computing Device," Apple is looking to build lighter and smaller mobile devices like MacBooks (Air, Pro) by replacing current batteries with a fuel cell system.

This may not come as a surprise to many, since Apple has filed other patent applications for lighter hydrogen fuel cells. Those patents, which were brought to light this past October, described a building process where multiple fuel cells are connected by a power bus in a parallel pattern, and a voltage-multiplying circuit is added for additional voltage to the stack."
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