Why you should care about fuel cell chargers

Compact fuel cell-based phone charger Upp seems set to bring this long-awaited tech to the masses

Fuel cells? I’ve heard about these before

You certainly have. We’ve covered hydrogen fuel cells on these pages a few times as a way to power various devices, from phones to MacBooks to cars. They’ve long been regarded as a major future alternative to batteries because they’re long-lasting, portable and clean (outputting nothing but energy and water vapour). But despite all the talk we’ve seen little sign of them in the real world… until now.

What’s changed?

Today Intelligent Energy unveiled Upp, a personal fuel cell device that’s affordable, compact and compatible with pretty much any mobile gadget you own. It’ll top up the battery of anything that charges via USB, like smartphones, tablets, e-readers, handheld consoles and some digital cameras.

How does Upp work?

Upp is a simple two-part system: you clip a fuel cell cartridge onto the main charger body. At one end is a Micro USB port and a button to turn on the power. You plug in your gadget and hit the button to start charging, then turn it off when you’re done (it’ll also automatically turn off when the item is fully charged, in order to save power). That’s pretty much it.

There’s also a companion app (for Android and iOS) that predicts how much usage you have left on your current cell.

The charger weighs 385g and a cartridge weighs 235g, and together they measure 120 x 40 x 48mm.

More after the break...

How is it better than carrying around an extra battery?

Well, assuming the device you’re charging supports battery swapping in the first place, Upp provides far more power than an extra battery. Its makers claim a full capacity Upp charger will fully charge your smartphone at least five times. And there’s nothing to stop you carrying around several cartridges at a time.

Basically if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time and don’t expect access to traditional power sockets, a fuel cell charger is likely to be the best choice.

Are cartridges reusable?

Yes, each cartridge can be reused ‘multiple times’, but it doesn’t seem like you’ll be able to refill it yourself. What you may be able to do is exchange spent cartridges for filled ones at vending machines (probably not for free, of course).

So how much does Upp cost?

The device will set you back around US$200 (RM645), but Intelligent Energy is also working with networks on plans that, in exchange for a monthly fee, will get you a charger and a certain amount of cartridge refills.

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