Apple Posits Fuel-Cell Powered Laptops

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Imagine futuristic laptops even thinner and lighter than the MacBook Air, capable of running for several days or even weeks without recharging–Apple certainly is, as a couple U.S. patents published yesterday reveal.

The patents involve fuel cell technology, spurred, according to Apple’s filings, by “our country’s continuing reliance on fossil fuels.” That, argues Apple, “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. These problems have led to an increasing awareness and desire on the part of consumers to promote and use renewable energy sources.”

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Fuel cell technology isn’t new, but it could be groundbreaking in a laptop. Fuel cells are basically a way to convert the energy released from chemical reactions into electricity. They’ve been used in everything from NASA space satellites and probes to various types of vehicles, including automobiles, boats and submarines. The most common source of fuel cell energy is hydrogen, ergo the so-called “hydrogen car,” which couples oxygen and hydrogen to fuel the vehicle and produces little more than water as a byproduct.

Apple’s patent filing describes a “portable and cost-effective fuel cell system for a portable computing device”:

This fuel cell system includes a fuel cell stack which converts fuel into electrical power. It also includes a fuel source for the fuel cell stack and a controller which controls operation of the fuel cell system. The fuel system also includes an interface to the portable computing device, wherein the interface comprises a power link that provides power to the portable computing device, and a bidirectional communication link that provides bidirectional communication between the portable computing device and the controller for the fuel cell system.

Apple says a device powered by such a fuel system could run “for days or even weeks without refueling.” The system would theoretically be capable of both powering and receiving power from a rechargeable battery.

“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,” reads one of the filings. “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.”

[via AppleInsider]

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Matt Peckham is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @mattpeckham, Google+ or Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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