For decades we've been promised that hydrogen fuel cells will revolutionize our lives, but it always seems to be around the next corner. But that hasn't stopped one UK company from pursuing a near future in which iPhones and other devices are completely disconnected from the electrical grid and instead use embedded fuel cells to power themselves for a full week between recharges.
Intelligent Energy has been working for many years to bring more fuel cells to the power generation and distribution industry, as well as the transportation and consumer electronics sectors. The company is one of a number of outfits that offer hydrogen-power fuel cell chargers for mobile devices; its Upp portable charger is sold in some UK Apple stores and claims to be able to charge a smartphone five times per replaceable fuel cartridge.
Embedding similar fuel cells in smartphones, either to charge an internal lithium-ion battery or power the device directly, could be the great leap forward in battery life that we've all been waiting for if the company is able to implement its vision. It sees all our gadgets powered by hydrogen gas from recyclable canisters, eliminating the scramble to find an electrical outlet when your day runs longer than expected and smartphone battery levels drop into the dangerous "red" zone.
According to The Telegraph, Intelligent Energy has a working prototype of an iPhone running off an embedded fuel cell that it likes to show off at its office, although so far no pictures have been produced of such a device and the company has yet to confirm or deny its existence. And really, modding a single iPhone does not a revolution make.
However, the company does already have an existing relationship with Apple and Apple itself has applied for a patent for embedding a hydrogen fuel cell in a device alongside a rechargeable battery, so clearly the interest is there in Cupertino.
"Once our fuel cell technology is brought to the inside of the consumer electronic device, we will have moved some way to becoming liberated from the electrical grid entirely," reads a recent post on the Intelligent Energy company blog about the project. "Smartphones could then be able to generate their own clean power and the dream of a week of battery life could be a reality."