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Apple investigating fuel-cell-powered MacBooks

post #1 of 55
Thread Starter 
Apple could build new notebooks that are even smaller and lighter than current battery-powered devices by switching to fuel cells for power.

The prospect of fuel-cell-powered MacBooks and other devices was raised in a pair of Apple patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and discovered by AppleInsider this week. They are entitled "Fuel Cell System to Power a Portable Computing Device" and "Fuel Cell System Coupled to a Portable Computing Device."

"Our country's continuing reliance on fossil fuels has forced our government to maintain complicated political and military relationships with unstable governments in the Middle East, and has also exposed our coastlines and our citizens to the associated hazards of offshore drilling," the filings state. "These problems have led to an increasing awareness and desire on the part of consumers to promote and use renewable energy sources."

Apple's proposed invention notes that the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, has helped to increase consumer awareness of the environmental friendliness of electronic devices. In addition, Apple usually highlights the EPEAT ratings of products it introduces at highly publicized keynote events.

"As a consequence of increased consumer awareness, electronics manufacturers have become very interested in renewable energy sources for their products, and they have been exploring a number of promising renewable energy sources such as hydrogen fuel which is used in hydrogen fuel cells," both documents state.

Apple then makes a case for using fuel cells to power portable electronic devices, noting that hydrogen and associated fuels could allow such devices to operate "for days or even weeks without refueling." But the company also notes there are challenges in creating hydrogen fuel cell systems that are portable and cost-effective.

The solution presented by Apple describes a fuel cell system that can both provide power to and receive power from a rechargeable battery found in a device like a MacBook.



"This eliminates the need for a bulky and heavy battery within the fuel cell system, which can significantly reduce the size, weight and cost of the fuel cell system," one filing reads. "This fuel cell system includes a fuel cell stack which converts fuel into electrical power. It also includes a controller which controls operation of the fuel cell system."

"Fuel Cell System to Power a Portable Computing Device" was first filed with the USPTO in August of 2010. It is credited to Bradley L. Spare, Vijay M. Iyer, Jean L. Lee, Gregory L. Tice, Michael D. Hillman and David I. Simon. "Fuel Cell System Coupled to a Portable Computing device" is a continuation-in-part of a patent filed in 2010. It lists Iyer and Spare as its inventors.



Apple's interest in fuel cell technology is not new, as in October AppleInsider highlighted another pair of patent applications from Apple that described lighter and more efficient hydrogen fuel cells. The company proposed accomplishing this by building multiple fuel cells connected in a parallel configuration by a power bus, along with a voltage-multiplying circuit to increase the voltage of the stack.
post #2 of 55
Houston we've had a problem... fuel cell 1, fuel cell 3...
post #3 of 55
I applaud Apple's efforts but think that the future is with manually powered devices. Nature friendly and fighting obesity!

post #4 of 55
imagine how hard it would be to get a device with a Hydrogen Fuel cell through the airport screening......
post #5 of 55
I'm trying to figure out the point of putting AppleInsider Stamped on Apple Copyright Images that are available for the general consumer to review via the USPTO.
post #6 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by DrDoppio View Post

I applaud Apple's efforts but think that the future is with manually powered devices. Nature friendly and fighting obesity!


You are kidding, right?
Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools."
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Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools."
Reply
post #7 of 55
In other news, Google announces they did work on fuel cells first.
post #8 of 55
If you recall, Apple bought the rights to the IP from Liquidmetal Technologies in August 2010 and then patented the fuel cell stack made from an amorphous glass ie: Liquidmetal. I really hope Apple does this as I keep reading about America's technological revolution that we are in and how we could be energy independent in 10 years. That would be amazing..


Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Apple could build new notebooks that are even smaller and lighter than current battery-powered devices by switching to fuel cells for power.

The prospect of fuel-cell-powered MacBooks and other devices was raised in a pair of Apple patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and discovered by AppleInsider this week. They are entitled "Fuel Cell System to Power a Portable Computing Device" and "Fuel Cell System Coupled to a Portable Computing Device."

"Our country's continuing reliance on fossil fuels has forced our government to maintain complicated political and military relationships with unstable governments in the Middle East, and has also exposed our coastlines and our citizens to the associated hazards of offshore drilling," the filings state. "These problems have led to an increasing awareness and desire on the part of consumers to promote and use renewable energy sources."

Apple's proposed invention notes that the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, has helped to increase consumer awareness of the environmental friendliness of electronic devices. In addition, Apple usually highlights the EPEAT ratings of products it introduces at highly publicized keynote events.

"As a consequence of increased consumer awareness, electronics manufacturers have become very interested in renewable energy sources for their products, and they have been exploring a number of promising renewable energy sources such as hydrogen fuel which is used in hydrogen fuel cells," both documents state.

Apple then makes a case for using fuel cells to power portable electronic devices, noting that hydrogen and associated fuels could allow such devices to operate "for days or even weeks without refueling." But the company also notes there are challenges in creating hydrogen fuel cell systems that are portable and cost-effective.

The solution presented by Apple describes a fuel cell system that can both provide power to and receive power from a rechargeable battery found in a device like a MacBook.



"This eliminates the need for a bulky and heavy battery within the fuel cell system, which can significantly reduce the size, weight and cost of the fuel cell system," one filing reads. "This fuel cell system includes a fuel cell stack which converts fuel into electrical power. It also includes a controller which controls operation of the fuel cell system."

"Fuel Cell System to Power a Portable Computing Device" was first filed with the USPTO in August of 2010. It is credited to Bradley L. Spare, Vijay M. Iyer, Jean L. Lee, Gregory L. Tice, Michael D. Hillman and David I. Simon. "Fuel Cell System Coupled to a Portable Computing device" is a continuation-in-part of a patent filed in 2010. It lists Iyer and Spare as its inventors.



Apple's interest in fuel cell technology is not new, as in October AppleInsider highlighted another pair of patent applications from Apple that described lighter and more efficient hydrogen fuel cells. The company proposed accomplishing this by building multiple fuel cells connected in a parallel configuration by a power bus, along with a voltage-multiplying circuit to increase the voltage of the stack.
post #9 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stourque View Post

In other news, Google announces they did work on fuel cells first.

And Ballmer, at a summit for tech luminaries, ridicules the idea of anything other than traditional batteries powering consumer devices. "Consumers love batteries and the feeling of security of knowing they can plug their computer into the wall every few hours using a transformer. No one wants to go days without plugging in."
post #10 of 55
That old chestnut. Every couple of years the Fuel Cell thing comes up.
post #11 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by roocka View Post

If you recall, Apple bought the rights to the IP from Liquidmetal Technologies in August 2010 and then patented the fuel cell stack made from an amorphous glass ie: Liquidmetal. I really hope Apple does this as I keep reading about America's technological revolution that we are in and how we could be energy independent in 10 years. That would be amazing..

I recall the acquisition, but I don't recall it being discussed in terms of fuel cells. Is this speculation on your part or is there real connection between these topics?
post #12 of 55
So how big is this thing? Instead of plugging into the wall we plug into a fuel cell? I guess if the fuel cell is portable this might be useful, but I don't want to carry an external "battery."

If we're not talking about replacing the internal battery with an internal fuel cell, then I'm not sure I understand how this is going to be useful...
post #13 of 55
These stories about fuel cells replacing batteries have been in the media for ages.

Nothing yet. Keep hoping.

Will people carry little bottles of methanol around with them to add juice to their laptops?
post #14 of 55
How long will it take the oil and battery lobbies to shut this idea down...again?
post #15 of 55
If I understand it correctly, the fuel cell generates power, which is then stored in the battery and doled out from there as needed. A controller governs the relationship between demand (depletion of the battery) and supply (generation from the fuel cell).

This would allow one to use a smaller battery, since it would recharge more often, internally, from the fuel cell.

?
post #16 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by s4mb4 View Post

imagine how hard it would be to get a device with a Hydrogen Fuel cell through the airport screening......

Great point, and same thing goes for methanol or any other high energy density fuel like those.
post #17 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by ascii View Post

That old chestnut. Every couple of years the Fuel Cell thing comes up.

Indeed. I don't see it happening. The point made about airport security is good enough to kill the idea. But in addition to that, I really don't think consumers will be very keen on filling up their laptops with hydrogen gas or methanol.

Batteries aren't great, but they keep getting better. If somebody figures out how to make lithium-air work that could be a real winner (and despite the considerable difficulties of that approach, I think it's still more likely to work in the end than fuel cells).
post #18 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by brutus009 View Post

So how big is this thing? Instead of plugging into the wall we plug into a fuel cell? I guess if the fuel cell is portable this might be useful, but I don't want to carry an external "battery."

If we're not talking about replacing the internal battery with an internal fuel cell, then I'm not sure I understand how this is going to be useful...

http://www.gizmag.com/go/5325/

the main trouble might be getting enough useful volume inside the cell without compromising the integrity of the vessel is such a way as to make it tamper proof - or at least exceedingly difficult to turn into a weapon.

energy density is another key factor - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density
getting enough material into a space that makes a useful product is the engineering side of this

one alternative for airport safety - is that if the cells are uniform - or have a uniform cartridge size for example - then you could have some sort of exchange program - or stations at airports where you empty your cell before you board and get a credit for the hydrogen returned to the system - and then buy a refill at the other end.
post #19 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by malax View Post

And Ballmer, at a summit for tech luminaries, ridicules the idea of anything other than traditional batteries powering consumer devices. "Consumers love batteries and the feeling of security of knowing they can plug their computer into the wall every few hours using a transformer. No one wants to go days without plugging in."

And they want lead batteries. No one wants a battery made of something they can't spell or pronounce.
post #20 of 55
What happens to the water?
post #21 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by ascii View Post

That old chestnut. Every couple of years the Fuel Cell thing comes up.

Indeed. The LiquidMetal angle makes it a bit fresher, but I know they were "working on putting fuel cells in laptops" at least ten years ago, probably longer. It may be practical someday.

I think the key words in this patent are all that political, ideological muck at the beginning about "unstable Middle Eastern governments." That tells you right there that this is not mainstream at Apple itself.

All the mainstream patents have Jobs' involvement or at least someone serious enough to realise that that kind of language has no place in a patent application regardless of whether it's true or not. It makes them sound like flakes.
post #22 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by malax View Post

I recall the acquisition, but I don't recall it being discussed in terms of fuel cells. Is this speculation on your part or is there real connection between these topics?

I could be wrong but the way I remember it the only patent Apple has applied for involving LiquidMetal was for a new (anode/diode) plate in a battery, not a fuel cell. It was supposed to give a 30% boost or something.
post #23 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by NotScott View Post

If I understand it correctly, the fuel cell generates power, which is then stored in the battery and doled out from there as needed. A controller governs the relationship between demand (depletion of the battery) and supply (generation from the fuel cell).

This would allow one to use a smaller battery, since it would recharge more often, internally, from the fuel cell.

?

That's how I was understanding it. A fuel cell might not be able to respond rapidly enough to the fluxuating power needs of a portable electronic device...instand on, CPU/GPU ramping up/down, etc. Like a hybrid car...it runs off the battery and the smaller engine keeps the battery charged. Even those hand cranked flashlights you can buy...most people don't realize they have batteries in them (and the batteries may need occassional replacement). Turning the crank doesn't power the light. It charges the battery. That way it's ready to turn on instantly without having to first turn the crank.
post #24 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by backtomac View Post

What happens to the water?

The macbook will have a little iPenis that it wee's with.
post #25 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by monstrosity View Post

The macbook will have a little iPenis that it wee's with.

It gonna need one.

Seriously though, if you look at the diagrams its not obvious what happens to the water that is produced.
post #26 of 55
It's interesting to see fuel cells being "talked" about, but really this is so far from reality that I would expect man landing on Mars before this comes to consumers. This would require a whole new system of economics where economies are fueled by Hydrogen and not Foreign Oil; but then again it will be fun going to CVS to buy a hydrogen capsule to refuel small gadgets.
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post #27 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by backtomac View Post

It gonna need one.

Seriously though, if you look at the diagrams its not obvious what happens to the water that is produced.

may depend on how much is produced - perhaps it could be used for water cooling of the CPU and GPU - although having steam come out may not be better than water dripping out.
post #28 of 55
Here's the patent:
http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-P...957&RS=7862957

Here's some discussion of it and Liquid Metal:
http://www.cultofmac.com/75486/apple...ent-exclusive/

N.B. Fuel cell reactions are reversible--it's not necessarily the case that a fuel cell would need to be replenished by the addition of some unwieldy liquid. Just plug in a charger to drive the reaction in reverse.
post #29 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by malax View Post

And Ballmer, at a summit for tech luminaries, ridicules the idea of anything other than traditional batteries powering consumer devices. "Consumers love batteries and the feeling of security of knowing they can plug their computer into the wall every few hours using a transformer. No one wants to go days without plugging in."

I can actually imagine this....lol! Facial expressions and all.
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post #30 of 55
Umm. Ok I don't have a problem with it as long as it can make my 20 oz Iced Mocha.
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post #31 of 55
Another inventory I have to procure and manage? No, Thanks. I'll stick with a technology where I can get power at billions of outlets around the world either free or for a pittance.

For those occasions away from the grid, there are already solutions (solar chargers, bicycle dynamos) that are perfectly adequate to charge the newer low-power devices such as iphone or even ipad. Fuel cells could join those solutions as an external battery-charging option. But there's no compelling reason to build them into every unit other than the desire by engineers to eternally increase the power levels. That way lies madness. iPad is pointing the other way -- efficiency is far more elegant and desirable.
post #32 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

Fuel cell reactions are reversible--it's not necessarily the case that a fuel cell would need to be replenished by the addition of some unwieldy liquid. Just plug in a charger to drive the reaction in reverse.

This is the part I was wondering. I was wondering how we were going to refill the fuel cell, b/c Apple has already been working to make less and less of all their products need to be user accessed. RAM and maybe a hard drive is about all that is easily accessible in anything outside of the Mac Pro currently, and easily is pushing it w/some of those. Some have no really user replaceable bits, like the iPad.

If this means we would have a large power in a small space fuel cell that powers a smaller battery that overall takes up less space, then you plug in to charge both up, I could see that having possibilities. So long as recharging the fuel cell fully didn't take forever. I would assume once the internal battery got to 25% or some number it would start recharging off the fuel cell and until then the fuel cell sits inert.
post #33 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

N.B. Fuel cell reactions are reversible--it's not necessarily the case that a fuel cell would need to be replenished by the addition of some unwieldy liquid. Just plug in a charger to drive the reaction in reverse.

Fuel cells are not good for electrolysis. And what do you do with all this hydrogen you theoretically generate? Do you have microcompressors to stuff it back into the tank?

As much as I like the concept of hydrogen fuel cells, forty years of reading about them tells me they have too many problems. Proton exchange membranes degrade due to exposure to airborne contaminants. Storage of hydrogen isn't easy. Compressed hydrogen has very low power density. Liquid is slightly better but you're wasting a lot of energy to liquify it and you need lots of insulation to keep it cold. Adsorbents are bulky and heavy. Generating hydrogen in the first place wastes a lot of energy because electrolysis is so inefficient.

Come back to reality.
post #34 of 55
The future is MEG solar cells, 114% efficient. That is enough suface area to cover the lid of a Macbook.
post #35 of 55
A nuclear power source would be cheaper and easier to build and probably safer. Especially if the goal is to trickle charge the battery like this is apparently doing.

Could you ever see the FAA approving any sort of hydrogen powered source for walk on airplane use? Even before the advent of the idiocy over terrorism it would have been considered stupid. Even more liquid fuels like methanol would be a problem. The problem is clearly one that would take much engineering and test to convince anybody such a unit is safe for flight.

I'm all for improved devices but I can not see such a cell ever being safe for transportation. At least not with liquid or gaseous hydrogen.
post #36 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by some internet dude View Post

The future is MEG solar cells, 114% efficient. ...

No. It is a violation of the laws of physics--specifically, the first, second, and third laws of thermodynamics--for a device to be more than 100% efficient. Multiple Exciton Generation solar cells are not 114% efficient. According to this paper published by the U. S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, quantum dot MEG solar cells are 45%-85% efficient. This is fantastic as it is. There is no need to claim the physically impossible to try to make them look good.
post #37 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post

I think the key words in this patent are all that political, ideological muck at the beginning about "unstable Middle Eastern governments." That tells you right there that this is not mainstream at Apple itself.

I also wondered what was up with that.
post #38 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by malax View Post

I recall the acquisition, but I don't recall it being discussed in terms of fuel cells. Is this speculation on your part or is there real connection between these topics?

Its not speculation. Here is the link.

http://www.cultofmac.com/75486/apple...ent-exclusive/
post #39 of 55
Does this mean that Apple patented the intuitively obvious idea of putting a fuel cell in a laptop (or other portable device with computer chips)? So when someone actually invents a practical portable fuel cell, only Apple will be able to us it? What a bunch of Patent Trolls Apple is, and we need to fix our patent system so that only things that actually exist and are not completely obvious can be patented.
post #40 of 55
Quote:
Originally Posted by kkessler View Post

Does this mean that Apple patented the intuitively obvious idea of putting a fuel cell in a laptop (or other portable device with computer chips)? So when someone actually invents a practical portable fuel cell, only Apple will be able to us it? What a bunch of Patent Trolls Apple is, and we need to fix our patent system so that only things that actually exist and are not completely obvious can be patented.

I doubt the patent is simply about the concept of putting a fuel cell into a notebook - far more likely that it has to do with the interoperation of said fuel cell with a Li-ion battery and the control logic necessary to make it a viable working system.
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