Apple exploring lighter, more efficient hydrogen fuel cells

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
Apple's interest in alternative energy and building "green," energy-efficient devices has been highlighted in a new concept for hydrogen fuel cells to power portable electronics.



A pair of new patent applications published this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and discovered by AppleInsider demonstrate the work Apple has done internally on fuel cells. The filings describe how Apple could build the power sources smaller and lighter for portable devices.



The first application, entitled "Parallel Fuel Stack Architecture," describes how Apple could arrange a set of fuel cells into a fuel stack. In the second filing, named "Reduced-Weight Fuel Cell Plate," Apple describes how it could use lightweight electrically conductive and corrosion-resistant material to build a fuel cell.



The applications explain that fuel cells provide electrical power by converting a fuel, such as hydrogen or a hydrogen-containing compound, into an electric current. Fuel cells contain an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte between them.



In a fuel cell, a catalyst at the anode oxidizes the fuel and produces positively charged ions and electronics. Ions from the oxidization process then pass through to the cathode while blocking the passage of electrons, and the electrons then drive a load connected to the fuel cell.



For a waste product, the ions recombine with a negatively charged atom, such as oxygen, at the cathode. Any waste from a fuel cell escapes as carbon dioxide and/or water.



A fuel cell typically produces low voltages between 0.5 and 0.7 volts, requiring multiple fuel cells to be combined to create a fuel cell stack. But these stacks come with a number of inherent issues.







For starters, fuel cell stack architectures can have a single point of failure in a connected series. Fuel cells may also fail for a number of reasons, including accumulation of nitrogen in the anode, degradation of the electrolyte, or water flooding in the anode or cathode. Because of this, the reliability of a fuel cell stack can decrease as the number of cells in the stack grows.



Apple's solution for this issue is to build 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. In this way, the reliability of the stack would be increased while the fuel cells could also potentially power devices with higher operating voltages.



Another problem with fuel cells detailed by Apple is their bipolar plates are typically built with conductive and corrosion-resistant materials, such as stainless steel, that are high in density and add weight to the fuel cells. A stack of cells, all made of stainless steel, can create a power source and portable device that are too heavy to be used practically.







To address this problem, Apple proposes arranging the fuel cells in a monopolar configuration to enable sharing of electrodes between adjacent fuel cells in the fuel stack. This sharing of electrodes could significantly reduce the number of electrodes in the fuel stack, and also enable the use of monopolar plates that are lighter and thinner.



In this method, Apple believes it could build a monopolar fuel cell stack that is both lighter and cheaper than a typical bipolar fuel cell stack. Even with the reduction in weight and cost, the filing says the stack could contain the same number of fuel cells, or even be more powerful than a traditional bipolar fuel cell stack of the same size.



Both patent applications, made public this week, were first filed with the USPTO in April of 2010. The parallel architecture filing is credited to Steven. C. Michalske and Bradley L. Spare, while the reduced weight application is credited to Vijay M. Iyer, Jean L. Lee and Gregory L. Tice.



Apple has frequently explored the possible use of alternative energy sources in its devices to make them more efficient and environmentally friendly. While the mention of fuel cells in an application from Apple is unique, the company has repeatedly (1, 2, 3) explored the option of solar power in its portable electronics.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 39
    Remember the liquid metal patent Apple was granted not so long ago? Well, it was about fuel cells, and I can only assume that these patents have something to do with each other.

    It might be an exciting time for LQMT-stock owners
  • Reply 2 of 39
    Hydrogen isn't a green technology whatsoever. It is inefficient, because energy is lost as it is transferred from other sources of energy.
  • Reply 3 of 39
    povilaspovilas Posts: 473member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by monstrosity View Post


    Hydrogen isn't a green technology whatsoever. It is inefficient, because energy is lost as it is transferred from other sources of energy.



    energy is always lost, the question is how much energy.
  • Reply 4 of 39
    Hydrogen has been a pipe dream and means by which to keep an oil stranglehold on energy since they used it to explain away the discontinuation of GM's EV-1? IN THE EIGHTIES.



    I don't believe that any hydrogen fuel cell will ever be mass produced nor hydrogen used for any purpose whatsoever beyond getting stuff into space.



    And that's good. Because we don't need worthless tech that takes thirty years to show zero progress. Better electric batteries and more efficient electric motors is what we need.



    Apple should design car batteries. Heck, with the advancements in battery tech they've done, we could see driving ranges jump from 200 miles to 700, effectively removing any need for a gas-powered vehicle in 97% of all use cases.
  • Reply 5 of 39
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Povilas View Post


    energy is always lost, the question is how much energy.



    Yes, but the production of hydrogen adds another often unnecessary step in the chain.

    Fossil fuel->electricity->hydrogen->electricity more than often the case.



    Hydrogen just irritates me because the green brigade often forget to mention the original source of energy that produces the hydrogen.
  • Reply 6 of 39
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,428member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by monstrosity View Post


    Yes, but the production of hydrogen adds another often unnecessary step in the chain.

    Fossil fuel->electricity->hydrogen->electricity more than often the case.



    Hydrogen just irritates me because green brigade often forget to mention the original source of energy that produces the hydrogen.



    Sorry you are living in the last century.



    Why do you assume fossil fuel it always going to be the initial source of process? In Germany they are producing over 30% of their energy requirements by using buildings i.e. factories, shops, houses fitted with solar, thermal recovery, wind etc .. and they use hydrogen production as a means of storage when production is in excess of demand. Technology has come a long way from the old conceptions of hydrogen usage. It is in fact key to the conversion from fossil fuels to far more abundant and efficient energy sources. Only the fossil fuel companies keep putting out the old myths about hydrogen and those insufficiently educated or simply politically stuck in dogma refuse to look past their false information.



    Try reading 'The Third Industrial Revolution'. This isn't science fiction it is being done in many countries. Germany leading the way. The author was a consultant to the German government and also many other countries use his expertise.



    http://www.amazon.com/Third-Industri.../dp/0230115217



    About Jeremy Rifkin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeremy_Rifkin



    Discussed in this below link. Sorry it's what American's consider a leftist source but right wing sources refuse to take notice, even as Germany and others actually prove this all works. This should not be a political issue but a scientific one.



    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeremy..._b_964049.html
  • Reply 7 of 39
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post


    Sorry you are living in the last century.



    Why do you assume fossil fuel it always going to be the initial source of process? In Germany they are producing over 30% of their energy requirements by using buildings i.e. factories, shops, houses fitted with solar, thermal recovery, wind etc .. and they use hydrogen production as a means of storage when production is in excess of demand. Technology has come a long way from the old conceptions of hydrogen usage. It is in fact key to the conversion from fossil fuels to far more abundant and efficient energy sources. Only the fossil fuel companies keep putting out the old myths about hydrogen and those insufficiently educated or simply politically stuck in dogma to bother to look past their false information.



    Try reading The Third Industrial Revolution. This isn't science fiction it is being done in many countries. Germany leading the way. The author was a consultant to the German government and also many other countries use his expertise.



    http://www.amazon.com/Third-Industri.../dp/0230115217



    Discussed in this below link. (sorry it's what American's consider a leftist source but right wing sources refuse to take notice, even as Germany and others actually prove this all works. This should not be a political issue but a scientific one.



    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeremy..._b_964049.html







    I never said it was " always going to be the initial source" please don't put words in my mouth. And 30% well thats great.. so where does the rest come from? The majority like I said comes from fossil fuels. And there is limited urban space for solar (the only other viable source you mentioned for mass scale) otherwise you end up competing for space with food crops (same problems as biofuel). Whatever way you look at it, it is NOT a green source or storage of energy.



    It' may well have it's uses in the future, but unless you put solar panels in space, beam the energy back to earth, then create hydrogen, you are always going to come across problems selling it as 'green' with a straight face.
  • Reply 8 of 39
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,488member
    I suspect the "real" motivation for using a fuel cell in portable electronics is energy density with respect to both weight and volume. Given that, I also suspect that a liquid hydrocarbon (methanol, most likely) would be used rather than hydrogen.



    But this is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever. It's not clear how receptive people will be to the idea that they need to pour methanol into their iPhone in order to get power, even if they only have to do that once a week (or whatever) as opposed to the current once-a-day charging. Batteries have a lot of weaknesses, but the pervasiveness of the infrastructure needed to recharge them is a big advantage over just about anything else.



    In terms of "greenness", I'm skeptical that this would really be all that green relative to batteries. It's a lot more efficient to move electrons around through wires than to move tanks of methanol around. Plus, it's easier to create electricity from renewable sources. And even in cases where both methanol and electricity are being produced from fossil fuels, I'll bet the efficiency of electricity production is higher.



    (oh, and I'm ignoring hydrogen, because hydrogen is totally out of the question. No way that happens. If this happens at all, it will be with a liquid hydrocarbon.)
  • Reply 9 of 39
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Blastdoor View Post


    I suspect the "real" motivation for using a fuel cell in portable electronics is energy density with respect to both weight and volume.



    Agreed.
  • Reply 10 of 39
    gustavgustav Posts: 826member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by monstrosity View Post


    I never said it was " always going to be the initial source" please don't put words in my mouth. And 30% well thats great.. so where does the rest come from?



    Who's to say you can't have a mix? Why not use the 30%, and get the 70% from other sources. Why is it that people will always dismiss an alternative fuel if it can't be used to provide 100% of the solution. This was the same argument used against natural gas decades ago, but today it heats millions of homes because it is more efficient than oil or electricity. That doesn't mean we have to power our cars, houses (other than heat), etc. with natural gas.
  • Reply 11 of 39
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Gustav View Post


    Who's to say you can't have a mix? Why not use the 30%, and get the 70% from other sources. Why is it that people will always dismiss an alternative fuel if it can't be used to provide 100% of the solution. This was the same argument used against natural gas decades ago, but today it heats millions of homes because it is more efficient than oil or electricity. That doesn't mean we have to power our cars, houses (other than heat), etc. with natural gas.







    Like I said, 30% is GREAT! But just don't try and convert that to hydrogen thinking it's some magical green intermediate storage form. Like the poster above said, transferring the energy through wires will be more often than not, the most efficient (therefore green) way.



    So I am not as you say "dismissing an alternative fuel", you are misunderstanding my point. You see, you can't just go to the hydrogen well and start drilling! It has to be made and at that point you get issues because to make it it takes energy, and that energy must come from another source.
  • Reply 12 of 39
    You can produce electricity from a variety of methods all can then be used to create the hydrogen from seawater. Hydrogen fuel cells are just a form of battery and with them you have the choice on how to charge them (produce the hydrogen).



    No reason you couldn't use hydro-plants, nuclear plants, solar plants, or wind plants to produce the hydrogen and then you can claim it's a green source of energy (have to love the false label though of "green" for non-CO2 producing energy sources since plants blossom the more CO2 there is).



    The biggest issue is constructing a nationwide hydrogen pipeline to pump the hydrogen from the coasts to distribution points to cut down on the transportation costs. Other than that the technology is ready today.
  • Reply 13 of 39
    xsuxsu Posts: 401member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Blastdoor View Post


    I suspect the "real" motivation for using a fuel cell in portable electronics is energy density with respect to both weight and volume. Given that, I also suspect that a liquid hydrocarbon (methanol, most likely) would be used rather than hydrogen.



    But this is not going to happen anytime soon, if ever. It's not clear how receptive people will be to the idea that they need to pour methanol into their iPhone in order to get power, even if they only have to do that once a week (or whatever) as opposed to the current once-a-day charging. Batteries have a lot of weaknesses, but the pervasiveness of the infrastructure needed to recharge them is a big advantage over just about anything else.



    Pour methanol into iphone? It will be just like the old days when people fill lighter fluid into their Zippo.



    I would guess if it indeed come to using fuel cell in phones, it will use fuel cartridge like inkjet printer cartridge.
  • Reply 14 of 39
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by MacApple21 View Post


    Remember the liquid metal patent Apple was granted not so long ago? Well, it was about fuel cells, and I can only assume that these patents have something to do with each other.

    It might be an exciting time for LQMT-stock owners



    Ugh. The stock has been a disaster. It was noodling around in the ¢20 region before Apple made its announcement a few quarters ago. Following that, it shot up to the mid-¢60s.



    Now it's back in the upper teens (¢17 this morning).

    \
  • Reply 15 of 39
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Giffen View Post


    Hydrogen fuel cells are just a form of battery





    Precisely, I could just as well sell as green, the potential energy in kilogram weights lifted from the floor with my electric powered crane! haha
  • Reply 16 of 39
    The conundrum is the micro adaptation of green energy in a laptop vs the huge amount of fossil fuel still supplying our electricity, worldwide. While Apple's attempts are laudable there will be a diminishing of returns as they push the envelope at their level while worldwide there is a relatively slow move away from fossil fuel.



    I said worldwide, not just Germany.



    Real change needs to take place at a much higher level. The commercials for Nissan Leaf in the US would have you believe they run on puppys and rainbows. They run on fossil fuel which is converted into electricity by burning it. Then you connect your happy little plug into the wall and get pure fresh clean green energy.
  • Reply 17 of 39
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by monstrosity View Post


    I never said it was " always going to be the initial source" please don't put words in my mouth. And 30% well thats great.. so where does the rest come from? The majority like I said comes from fossil fuels. And there is limited urban space for solar (the only other viable source you mentioned for mass scale) otherwise you end up competing for space with food crops (same problems as biofuel). Whatever way you look at it, it is NOT a green source or storage of energy.



    It' may well have it's uses in the future, but unless you put solar panels in space, beam the energy back to earth, then create hydrogen, you are always going to come across problems selling it as 'green' with a straight face.



    You're just trying to confuse the issue. Anyone halfway smart knows that there is no perfectly "green" (whatever the heck that means -- I don't think you mean it as a compliment) source.



    There are only varying degrees of clean (in the sense of GHG emissions-free energy as measured throughout its installation/production/consumption/disposal life cycle). There are substantially less clean (e.g., traditional coal), and substantially more clean (wind, nuclear, hydrogen).
  • Reply 18 of 39
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post


    You're just trying to confuse the issue. Anyone halfway smart knows that there is no perfectly "green" (whatever the heck that means -- I don't think you mean it as a compliment) source.

    .



    I never said there is a "perfectly green" method of doing anything!



    If you lot were a quarter way smart you could read!
  • Reply 19 of 39
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Giffen View Post


    Y..... (have to love the false label though of "green" for non-CO2 producing energy sources since plants blossom the more CO2 there is).....



    This is also trying to confuse the issue. All the plants in the world can only absorb only a finite additional annual amount of CO2. Add to that the oceans and what they can absorb, the estimates are that about 16 gigatons of CO2 can be annually absorbed by the earth's natural systems.



    The problem is, burning fossil fuels to produce/consume energy globally emits about 30 gigatons annually.



    The additional 14 gigatons has to go somewhere.....
  • Reply 20 of 39
    mr. memr. me Posts: 3,221member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by monstrosity View Post


    I never said it was " always going to be the initial source" please don't put words in my mouth. And 30% well thats great.. so where does the rest come from? The majority like I said comes from fossil fuels. And there is limited urban space for solar (the only other viable source you mentioned for mass scale) otherwise you end up competing for space with food crops (same problems as biofuel). Whatever way you look at it, it is NOT a green source or storage of energy.



    It' may well have it's uses in the future, but unless you put solar panels in space, beam the energy back to earth, then create hydrogen, you are always going to come across problems selling it as 'green' with a straight face.



    Whether you said that petroleum was the initial source or not, that is the clear implication of your statement. It would make no sense otherwise. We do not enter into this discussion without a baseline set of facts. One of those facts is that the oil and gas companies are working hard to ensure that the source of hydrogen in any prospective hydrogen economy is reformed natural gas or hydrogen produced by reforming other petroleum-based products.



    I find it interesting that anytime the topic of hydrogen fuel cells comes up, the naysayers come out of the woodwork with the most strident arguments why hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells are terrible ideas. I find it humorous that you minimize the impact of a 30% impact on non-carbon source of energy on the energy economy. The truth is that it would be huge. A 30% reduction in use of petroleum would have Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell, ChevronTexaco, British Petroleum, and any number of other petroleum producing companies begging their national governments for bailouts.



    Certainly 30% is not a majority. No one ever claimed that it was. However, every little bit helps. That said, 30% is a lot. A lot helps a lot more.



    The idea of using fuel cells as power sources for consumer electronic devices has been around for a few years now. I am happy to read that Apple seems to be upping its efforts in this area. For those who don't like it, let them eat LiMH's.
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