A Look at Fuel Cell Technology With Intelligent Energy's 'Upp' Hydrogen Power Pack for iPhone

Fuel cells, which generate power via chemical reactions, aren't exactly new technology, having been invented in the 1830s, but they're seen by some as one of the next steps in the evolution of electrical power. In the not-so-distant future, we may adopt fuel cells for powering cars, homes, and a whole range of consumer electronics with clean energy.

Intelligent Energy is one of the companies working to further fuel cell technology in the consumer space, having recently introduced its first hydrogen fuel cell iPhone charger, the "Upp." MacRumors went hands-on with the Upp to give fuel cell technology a try, and we spoke to Intelligent Energy's Corporate Development Director Julian Hughes, who shared some details about Intelligent Energy's fuel cell ambitions.


The Upp, introduced in the U.K. in November, is a hydrogen micro generator that uses replaceable, refillable fuel cartridges to charge an iPhone. With a cartridge attached, the Upp becomes a PEM (polymer electrolyte membrane) fuel cell, which transforms the chemical energy freed during a reaction of hydrogen and oxygen to electrical energy to power an electronic device. Since it's using a chemical reaction to create power, there's an audible clicking noise as the Upp releases water vapor while charging.

upp2
There are two main parts to the Upp: the base charger, and the fuel cell cartridge that it ships with. Using the Upp is as simple as popping the cartridge into the bottom of the charger, plugging a Lightning cable into the USB port, (not included) and then plugging in an iPhone.

A full fuel cell cartridge is able to provide up to five charges for an iPhone and the 5V/5W/1000mA output means it charges about as fast as a standard iPhone charger plugged into the wall. In practice, we saw 3.5 charges with an iPhone 6 Plus before the fuel cell was emptied, which can be tracked via a useful app the company has created.

uppapp
Once a fuel cartridge's power has been exhausted, it will need to be refilled at one of the many refilling stations in the UK, because there's no way for users to refill fuel cells at home. One of the main reasons that fuel cell technology has yet to go mainstream is cost, and that barrier is still very much present with the Upp. On top of the £149 ($220) for the charger, it costs £5.95 (~$9) for each fuel cartridge refill.

Cost is the number one downside to the current iteration of the Upp charger, but bulk is also a negative factor. This isn't a charger that you pop in your pocket or your purse while you're out for the day -- it weighs over a pound, it's thick, and with the cartridge attached, it's much taller than an iPhone.

upp3
The major benefit to the Upp is that its fuel cell cartridges don't lose power over time like traditional batteries, which means they'll be available indefinitely for emergencies. Power on demand with no need to recharge is the most appealing aspect of the Upp -- it could come in handy in a serious emergency situation where no other power source is available because it can sit for over 10 years with no degradation. Intelligent Energy also markets the Upp for off-the-grid outdoor use cases like camping and sailing.

The current iteration of the Upp has some significant downsides when it comes to cost and size, but Intelligent Energy is committed to bringing fuel cell technology into the consumer space. According to Julian Hughes, in the future, the company will be able to produce smaller, cheaper, lighter fuel cells that will be able to power a whole range of devices from computers to wearable devices.

The company's long-term goal is to bring people true mobility and independence from the power grid, creating fuel cells for all sorts of electronics. Hughes used the analogy of a webcam to describe the company's vision. In the 1990s, webcams were large, standalone cameras that were prohibitively expensive, but overtime, both cost and size decreased until we were able to embed webcams in our laptops.

Hughes estimates that over the course of the next five years, we'll see some major steps forward in fuel cell technology, allowing Intelligent Energy to introduce new iterations of the Upp and other products without today's limitations. Today's Upp has limited usefulness, but the Upp of tomorrow could change the way we charge our phones.

upp1
Consumer electronics are just one area that Intelligent Energy is involved in. The company's also developing automotive solutions and it's launched hydrogen fuel cell power units in India that power cell towers.

If you're in the UK, you can purchase the Upp from the company's website. It costs £149.00 for a charger and a single fuel cell cartridge and £49.95 for an additional cartridge. Refills are priced at £5.95 and can be purchased at various locations in the UK.

Intelligent Energy has plans to bring the Upp charger to the United States in the near future, at a price point around $200, with refills that cost around $5.

Tags: Upp, Fuel Cell

Top Rated Comments

thejd Avatar
96 months ago
I don't understand the logic this company is operating on. Why not charge a lot more for the device and allow users to refill the tank with distilled water?
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
uwdude Avatar
96 months ago
I guess this would make sense in situations where there was no electricity, but I can't see it being used as a common way to charge phones. Plus having to pay for each cartridge, it's kind of like the razor blade business model. Not sure if this would take off or not. Maybe for survivalist/camping scenarios.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Dayv Avatar
96 months ago
I don't understand the logic this company is operating on. Why not charge a lot more for the device and allow users to refill the tank with distilled water?

Why not skip the water too and just charge the phone through positive thinking or magical hexes? It's like they don't even understand business.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
SHirsch999 Avatar
96 months ago
I don't understand the logic this company is operating on. Why not charge a lot more for the device and allow users to refill the tank with distilled water?

Because that's not how fuel cells work. Water is not the fuel. It is a product of the reaction along with electricity.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
avanpelt Avatar
96 months ago
I'll pass. I have two 12,000-16,000 mAh USB batteries that each provide at least one week's worth of power to my iPhone 6 and fit nicely into a pocket in my backpack. So I'm good for at least two weeks without needing to have electricity to charge my phone. If I don't have power for more than two weeks, I'll have bigger problems than charging my phone.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
tirerim Avatar
96 months ago
I don't understand the logic this company is operating on. Why not charge a lot more for the device and allow users to refill the tank with distilled water?
Because you can't get energy out of water, at least not without a stronger oxidizer than oxygen. You would need to refill it with actual fuel.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

airpods pro 2 1

AirPods Pro 2 No Longer Expected to Feature Built-In Heart Rate or Body Temperature Sensor

Sunday July 3, 2022 8:07 pm PDT by
While past rumors have indicated the upcoming second-generation AirPods Pro will feature a built-in heart rate and body temperature sensor, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman has cast doubt on those rumors turning out to be true, saying instead such a feature is unlikely to come anytime soon. "Over the past few months, there have been rumors about this year's model gaining the ability to determine a...
top stories 2jul2022

Top Stories: M2 MacBook Air Release Date, New HomePod Rumor, and More

Saturday July 2, 2022 6:00 am PDT by
The M2 MacBook Pro has started making its way into customers' hands and we're learning more about how it performs in a variety of situations, but all eyes are really on the upcoming M2 MacBook Air which has seen a complete redesign and should be arriving in a couple of weeks. Other top stories this week included a host of product rumors including additional M2 and even M3 Macs, an updated...
Apple Watch 8 Unreleased Feature Thumb

Apple Watch Series 8 Model Rumored to Feature 5% Larger Display

Monday July 4, 2022 5:50 am PDT by
Apple is working on an Apple Watch Series 8 model with a larger display, according to DSCC's Ross Young and Haitong International Securities's Jeff Pu. In October last year, Young suggested that the Apple Watch Series 8 could come in three display sizes. Now, responding to a query about the rumor on Twitter, Young claims that the additional display size joining the Apple Watch lineup will be ...
intel go pc justin long

Windows Laptop Makers 'Worried' About New MacBook Air Impacting Sales

Tuesday July 5, 2022 6:57 am PDT by
The upcoming launch of Apple's redesigned MacBook Air with the M2 chip has some Windows laptop manufacturers "worried" that sales of Intel-based laptops will be negatively affected, according to industry sources cited by DigiTimes. "A Wintel brand vendor pointed out that at a price point of US$1,000-$1,500, the MacBook Air will crowd out other high-end notebooks," the report claims, with...
Apple Watch Series 8 What We Know Feature

Apple Watch Series 8 Might Be Able to Tell If You Have a Fever

Sunday July 3, 2022 6:36 am PDT by
The upcoming Apple Watch Series 8 will be able to tell a wearer if it believes they have a fever due to a higher than normal body temperature thanks to a new built-in sensor, according to Bloomberg's reliable Mark Gurman. Writing in the latest edition of his Power On newsletter, Gurman says that the Apple Watch Series 8 will feature a new body temperature sensor, given that the sensor passes ...
macbook air m2

Exclusive: Apple Plans to Launch MacBook Air With M2 Chip on July 15

Wednesday June 29, 2022 5:23 pm PDT by
The redesigned MacBook Air with the all-new M2 Apple silicon chip will be available for customers starting Friday, July 15, MacRumors has learned from a retail source. The new MacBook Air was announced and previewed during WWDC earlier this month, with Apple stating availability will begin in July. The MacBook Air features a redesigned body that is thinner and lighter than the previous...
European Commisssion

EU Approves Landmark Legislation to Regulate Apple and Other Big Tech Firms

Tuesday July 5, 2022 5:53 am PDT by
European Union lawmakers have approved landmark legislation to heavily regulate Apple, Google, Meta, and other big tech firms. The Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA) were proposed by the European Commission in December 2020. Now, collected in a "Digital Services Package," the legislation has been formally adopted by the European Parliament and seeks to address...