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Apple-Patented Fuel Cell Innovation Could Make Portable Devices Lighter & More Powerful

The iPhone 5 fuel cell charger

Apple has always been seen as the leader in technical innovation of the IT sector. Now Apple seems to getting involved in more than just IT: hydrogen fuel cells…

…for computers, that is. The Cupertino-based company has patented in April two ways which describe how fuel cells could be made smaller, lighter and more efficient for use in laptops and phones according to AppleInsider.

The first patent (“Parallel Fuel Stack Architecture”) describes the arranging of fuel cells into a fuel stack and the second (“Reduced-Weight Fuel Cell Plate”) seeks to solve the weight issue that fuel cells have by using a lightweight conductor that is also corrosion-resistant.

About the first patent, Apple saw clear that the reliability of a fuel cell stack decreases as the number of cells in that stack grows. As a consequence to that, they propose building multiple fuel cells in a parallel configuration, all of them connected by a power bus. A voltage-multiplying circuit would then increase the stack’s voltage, thus increasing its reliability and allowing the fuel cell to power other higher-voltage devices.

Apple's patented fuel cell

The second patent relates to the use of stainless steel in the fabrication of hydrogen fuel cells. Stainless steel is the choice most of the time because it’s cheap and doesn’t oxidize. The drawback is that steel is heavy and that bulks up fuel cells, thus reducing its effectiveness in cars (which need lightweight materials to consume less energy).

To solve the weight issue, Apple proposes arranging the fuel cells in a monopolar configuration. This would enable adjacent fuel cells in the stack to share electrodes and to reduce their number. The use of monopolar plates would also make fuel cells lighter, since they’re thinner.

Aside from making the fuel cells lighter and more reliable, these two innovations from Apple can even make them more efficient, since the same amount of fuel cells could actually produce more power.

Apple has also issued many patents related to the use of screen-embedded solar cells in portable devices, but this one of the few that relates to hydrogen (besides the liquidmetal one). Steve Jobs has been an innovator, and although I don’t know if he personally went this far, I for sure know that Apple will play some role in making our phones (and cars) better through some innovation that will later on be copied and used by everyone, like it’s always been…

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  1. There are so many issues with batteries in series that the parallel arrangement seems “obvious”, in obvious 20/20 inventor hindsight 🙂

    Same with the monopolar – I just drew it for a totally non-electronics-savvy acquaintance, and even he got it.

    Live and learn, I say… So much “obvious” stuff out there…

    Thank you!


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