updated 01:30 pm EST, Thu December 22, 2011
Apple takes unusually political tone in filings
Two newly-published patent applications suggest Apple interest in building fuel cells into MacBooks. The pair are titled Fuel Cell System to Power a Portable Computing Device and Fuel Cell System Coupled to a Portable Computing Device. In both, Apple adopts an unusually political stance as justification. "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 documents read. "These problems have led to an increasing awareness and desire on the part of consumers to promote and use renewable energy sources."
Apple notes that power sources like fuel cells can be used to improve the EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) ratings of products, and hence appease consumers. Cells based on hydrogen or other fuels could allow electronics to run for "days or even weeks without refueling," Apple remarks; the main challenge is said to be being creating technology that is both cheap and portable. In response, the company is proposing a system that ties a fuel cell into a rechargeable battery like the sort used in MacBooks.
"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," Apple writes in one of the patent filings. The scheme would involve both a cell stack and a matching controller unit.
Apple has expressed interest in fuel cells in the past. In October it was discovered that Apple was contemplating the idea of linking cells in parallel through a power bus, and/or arranging them in a monopolar layout that would save weight and cost while potentially increasing power. All of the patents date back to 2010, possibly suggesting some sort of concentrated effort at the time.