Apple applies for two fuel cell patents for use with portable computing devices

Dec 23, 2011 by Bob Yirka weblog
An image from the second patent.

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a move that demonstrates Apple’s determination to create an ever lighter Macbook that is also more environmentally friendly, the company has applied for two different patents that describe ways to use a fuel cell to power a portable computing device, which could of course also include devices like an iPad. In the patent applications, Apple also took the unusual step of adding some bit of political discourse to underscore its motivations in trying to build portable computing devices that are not reliant on fossil fuels.

Fuel cells are of course, a means for generating electricity by pushing compressed hydrogen though a membrane and mixing it with oxygen in the air. The only other output is water. It’s a technology that has been widely proposed as an alternative means for powering cars and trucks, but thus far, has not caught on to the extent that some had hoped.

In these latest patent filings, Apple is proposing a that can be integrated directly into a portable device, rather than, as other’s have proposed, a means of charging it. Thus, the device would never need recharging at all, instead it would need a have its recyclable fuel cartridges refilled. The patent diagrams also show that the design for such a system that would also employ a small rechargeable a battery that would be charged by the fuel cell, but could also send a charge back to run the fuel cell. Such a system could in theory run for days, or even weeks before having to replace the fuel cartridge.

One of the major stumbling blocks for implementation of widespread fuel cell technology is the lack of an infrastructure to support it. If Apple were to sell hydrogen fuel cell powered Macbooks, they would also have to develop a means for creating the fuel to fill the cartridges and for selling them through their Apple stores, which they likely are investigating as well.

Not mentioned in the patent application is what Apple would do with the very small amount of water that the fuel cell would produce. Cleary simply pumping it out the bottom of a Macbook wouldn’t work, and storing it would add weight. They might also be working on a way to force it to evaporate, but that might be subject to environmental humidity levels. In any case, it’s clear that understands the hurdles it faces as was also noted in the applications by the authors discussing how it is “extremely challenging” to figure out a way to create a hydrogen fuel cell system that would be both portable and in the end, cheap enough that the resulting device would still be price competitive. Thus, a fuel cell based Macbook likely is still a ways off into the future.

Explore further: Environmentally compatible organic solar cells

More information: Fuel Cell System to Power a Portable Computing Device
Fuel Cell System Coupled to a Portable Computing Device

via AppleInsider

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User comments : 23

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socean
not rated yet Dec 23, 2011
Since there are now nanocoatings that make electronics impervious to water, one obvious way to dissipate fuel cell moisture is to use it as an evaporative coolant for the CPU and GPU. This would also allow for higher clock speeds.
antonima
not rated yet Dec 23, 2011
This is good. I want a gas powered ipod asap.
Skultch
4 / 5 (4) Dec 23, 2011
they would also have to develop a means for creating the fuel to fill the cartridges


and power THAT whole process with renewable energy sources. Otherwise, what's the point? Oh, I get to *DRIVE* to an Apple store to buy another cartridge? A store that is powered by COAL burning, usually? A store with an inventory delivered by burning diesel fuel?

I'm not knocking the patent idea; just making a point. This could be very useful one day, AFTER we solve the biggest problem in history.
Koen
1 / 5 (3) Dec 23, 2011
battery energy and fuel cell energy can be created both in conventional or non-conventional ways, so the fuell cell ipad is not necessarily more environment friendly. It is not a practicle idea anyway (the fuel cell ipad), which proves Steve Jobs cannot be replaced.
Vendicar_Decarian
0.3 / 5 (37) Dec 23, 2011
That is actually an excellent idea. Worthy of patenting compared to Apple's lousy attempt to patent everything trivial.

"Since there are now nanocoatings that make electronics impervious to water, one obvious way to dissipate fuel cell moisture is to use it as an evaporative coolant for the CPU and GPU." - socean
Vendicar_Decarian
0.2 / 5 (37) Dec 23, 2011
"Steve Jobs cannot be replaced." - Koen

Who?
Vendicar_Decarian
0.6 / 5 (39) Dec 23, 2011
"Oh, I get to *DRIVE* to an Apple store to buy another cartridge?" - Skulch

Or you could have another in your pants pocket.

A better solution would just allow you to syringe a couple of ounces of fuel from a bottle and fill up the fuel cell reservoir directly - Apple would never do that since it would negate their ability to suck money from your wallet.

And that is the true problem that must be overcome. Allowing society to become beholden to companies that design products to serve their corporate interests rather than those of society.
Skultch
not rated yet Dec 23, 2011
A better solution would just allow you to syringe a couple of ounces of fuel from a bottle and fill up the fuel cell reservoir directly - Apple would never do that since it would negate their ability to suck money from your wallet.


Decent idea, afaik. Maybe there's still no patent for a universal portable fuel cell that works across a range of low voltages. (nah, Apple's probably submitted that one, too) I'm not an electrical engineer, so I have no idea what are the logistical or technical road blocks to that.
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (4) Dec 23, 2011
So before all the challenges have been solved, Apple went ahead and patented the concept of embedding a fuel cell into an electronic product? Either the patent is worthless because there are innumerable small changes that would avoid the patent, or it will force everyone who wants to make a fuel cell gadget pay them money for the next 20 years.

Apple didn't patent a new fuel cell, they patented combining any generic fuel cell with any generic electronic device. What crap.

plasticpower
3 / 5 (2) Dec 23, 2011
I don't see why you couldn't recharge your device like you recharge your lighter fluid, but re-filling the internal cartridge with compressed gas out of a bottle. That cuts charging time to seconds.
canuckit
not rated yet Dec 23, 2011
I am waiting for the Jobs Chia Pet...
Vendicar_Decarian
0.3 / 5 (37) Dec 23, 2011
Don't forget. Apple claimed a patent on the icon of the garbage can. And pull down menu's at the top of the desktop.

They litigated against Microsoft for many years on those two issues alone.

"Apple didn't patent a new fuel cell, they patented combining any generic fuel cell with any generic electronic device. What crap." - fbf

You will note that the design incorporates a communication connector to the electronic computing device itself. This communication connector will be used to make sure that only Apple sourced fuel can be used in it's apple products.

Vendicar_Decarian
0.2 / 5 (36) Dec 23, 2011
Chia iPet.

This thread is full of good ideas.
Cave_Man
1 / 5 (4) Dec 23, 2011
Does this mean one day I might be allowed to piss on someones Ipad/Pod/Phone?

"Hey watch it buddy I only needed an ounce!!!"
dschlink
not rated yet Dec 23, 2011
"Fuel cells are of course, a means for generating electricity by pushing compressed hydrogen though a membrane"

Unless a totally new technology has sprung up in the last couple days, membrane-based fuel-cells use liquid hydrocarbons.
Parsec
1 / 5 (2) Dec 24, 2011
they would also have to develop a means for creating the fuel to fill the cartridges


and power THAT whole process with renewable energy sources. Otherwise, what's the point? Oh, I get to *DRIVE* to an Apple store to buy another cartridge? A store that is powered by COAL burning, usually? A store with an inventory delivered by burning diesel fuel?

I'm not knocking the patent idea; just making a point. This could be very useful one day, AFTER we solve the biggest problem in history.

The biggest problem being solved is that battery's run out in a few handful of hours. Having a power source that last days or weeks would be wonderful. The rest of the stuff you are talking about is silly.
TheSpiceIsLife
not rated yet Dec 24, 2011
they would also have to develop a means for creating the fuel to fill the cartridges


and power THAT whole process with renewable energy sources. Otherwise, what's the point? Oh, I get to *DRIVE* to an Apple store to buy another cartridge? A store that is powered by COAL burning, usually? A store with an inventory delivered by burning diesel fuel?

I'm not knocking the patent idea; just making a point. This could be very useful one day, AFTER we solve the biggest problem in history.

The biggest problem being solved is that battery's run out in a few handful of hours. Having a power source that last days or weeks would be wonderful. The rest of the stuff you are talking about is silly.


It's a well known fact that all the big problems in science today haven't been solved yet because the PhD students doing the work all lost their theses the day before it was due because their MacBook battery went flat resulting in Word corrupted the files.
MIBO
5 / 5 (1) Dec 24, 2011
Sadly it doesn't sound like they patented anything inventive, more of the usual filing patents on trivia in an attempt to protect ways of using useful technology that they are still waiting for somebody else to invent.
It sickens me to see the patent system used in this way as it's no longer about protecting your investment in R&D but about building the biggest pile of patent crap to threaten your competitors with knowing that they will not be able to afford to defend themselves.
meerling
5 / 5 (1) Dec 25, 2011
I remember reading stuff from about a decade ago (and not from apple) about using fuel cells integrated into laptops and cell phones to vastly increase their usability, and 'recharging' them by refueling, either by putting in a new fuel cartridge (in the future) or (as they were currently using) a syringe to refuel it.
I really don't see anything unique, novel, or that wouldn't be obvious to someone in the industry, or even those not in the industry.
I have to wonder if those previous articles that were published qualify as prior art, as well as the early prototypes those guys were messing with.
Grizzled
3 / 5 (2) Dec 25, 2011
The main catch is that there is no source of free hydrogen on Earth (unlike out there in outer space).

This means that whatever "compressed hydrogen" they use to power the cell - it must be produced first. Somewhere. By far the most common industrial-scale source of hydrogen today is water electrolysis.

Now stop to think about that - first, we use electicity to split water into the hydrogen and oxygen. Release the oxygen into the air and compress hydrogen (more electricity used to compress).

Then we recombine the said hydrogen and oxygen back into the same water to produce the same electricity.... Except a lot less of it than we originally spent.

In other words - it's a kind of a chemical battery, it's NOT an energy source. And, while a good quality battery may be great (I'm not disputing THAT possibility), it's definitely not an energy source.

So... Just where did the original power came from?
_nigmatic10
1 / 5 (2) Dec 26, 2011
There are certain companies that practice a non-progressive style of technology suppression via patent flooding and the obvious infringement lawsuits that follow. Apple is such a company. Their practice on this agenda is soo aggressive that i am all but convinced all company used products have a build in filter to remove "open source" ideals.
Vendicar_Decarian
0.1 / 5 (35) Dec 26, 2011
"Apple is such a company. " - nigmatic

Now how could that be when some apple Fanboy just 2 months ago claimed here that Apple was a great supporter of open source software and hardware?

He couldn't be delusional could he?
_nigmatic10
1 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2011
"Apple is such a company. " - nigmatic

Now how could that be when some apple Fanboy just 2 months ago claimed here that Apple was a great supporter of open source software and hardware?

He couldn't be delusional could he?


Delusional would be a mild version defining such a statement. As such, i can only assume you are making a joke.

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