Apple has just applied for a patent on a fuel cell charging system that could be used in MacBook laptops, Wired reports. Using removable cartridges to contain the fuel, such a system could power a computer “for days or even weeks without refuelling.”
Apple is rumored to be working with UK company Intelligent Energy, which recently produced a hydrogen-powered fuel cell prototype capable of powering an iPhone for an entire week. This is not the first fuel cell patent Apple has filed, either.
This has the look of one of those technologies that you see coming but can’t fully imagine how it will change things once it gets here. I remember first reading about e-ink in a 1993 novel by Harry Harrison and Marvin Minsky, though it was over ten years before the technology first made its way to consumers and I certainly couldn’t have predicted the Kindle at the time.
Who knows what kind of smartphone, tablet, or e-reader technology we’ll have once we’ve got fuel-cell-powered gadgets and having to carry USB battery packs and AC adapters is a thing of the past? If e-ink Kindle batteries can last for days now, could they run for months on a fuel cell?
And most importantly, will it be safe to have something that can generate that much power in your pocket? Even laptop batteries can explode like grenades given the right provocation. What could something capable of producing a week’s worth of energy do if it went off?
Of course, the vast majority of patents Apple files never end up in use—but still, enough research has been done on powering gadgets with fuel cells that sooner or later, something is going to have to come of it. It will be interesting to see what that looks like.