In the patent application Apple describes a small internal power source that would add very little extra weight to a laptop. The patent refers specifically to Apple’s MagSafe charger for MacBooks, suggesting the technology wouldn’t be used in iPhones or iPads, reports Wired.
The patent, first spotted by 9to5Mac, includes a number of potential fuel sources, all of which would be mixed with water. Fuel cells work by mixing a fuel, such a hydrogen, with an oxidising agent, such as water or oxygen. Apple’s patent lists borohydride, sodium silicate, lithium hydride, magnesium hydride, a hydrocarbon and compressed or liquid hydrogen and others as potential fuels.
Unlike batteries that have to be recharged regularly, fuel cell systems require refuelling once they run out — and can last for weeks. Apple’s patent references a removable cartridge that could be slotted in and it is likely the fuel cell would operate alongside a normal battery.
News of Apple’s latest patent comes after a British company successfully developed a built-in hydrogen fuel cell capable of powering an iPhone for an entire week.
Loughborough-based Intelligent Energy is rumoured to be working with Apple on incorporating fuel cell systems into current and future iPhone models. Hydrogen fuel cells produce only small amounts of water and heat as waste.
Chief executive Henry Wizard refused to confirm if the company was working with Apple but did say that squeezing a hydrogen fuel cell into an iPhone 6 chassis was a world-first.
“This is a major step because if you are moving to a new technology you have to give people a path they are comfortable with,” he told The Telegraph.
Apple has filed a number of patents relating to fuel cell systems. A 2011 filing described a similar system, while in March a patent application detailed an external fuel cell system for mobile devices.