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
78 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
78 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
78 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
78 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
78 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
78 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)

Top Stories

bloodoxygenapplewatch

Apple Watch Series 7 Rumored to Feature Blood Glucose Monitoring

Monday January 25, 2021 5:05 am PST by
The Apple Watch Series 7 will reportedly feature blood glucose monitoring via an optical sensor, according to ETNews. The report, which mainly focuses on the blood glucose capabilities of the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, explains that Apple is intending to bring blood glucose monitoring to the upcoming Apple Watch Series 7 using a non-invasive optical sensor. Measuring blood glucose levels,...
14

Apple Releases iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4 With New Camera Warnings and Bug Fixes

Tuesday January 26, 2021 10:04 am PST by
Apple today released iOS and iPadOS 14.4, the fourth major updates to the iOS 14 operating system that was initially released in September. iOS and iPadOS 14.4 come more than a month after the release of iOS and iPadOS 14.3, updates that brought new emojis, Intercom support, and more. The iOS and iPadOS 14.4 updates can be downloaded for free and the software is available on all eligible...
7

Apple Releases watchOS 7.3 With Unity Watch Face, Expanded ECG Availability and More

Tuesday January 26, 2021 10:03 am PST by
Apple today released watchOS 7.3, the third major update to the watchOS 7 operating system that was released in September. watchOS 7.3 comes more than a month after watchOS 7.2, an update that brought support for Apple Fitness+ ‌‌The watchOS 7.3 update‌‌ can be downloaded for free through the dedicated Apple Watch app on the iPhone by going to General > Software Update. To install...
14

Apple Releases tvOS 14.4 for Fourth and Fifth-Generation Apple TV Models

Tuesday January 26, 2021 10:02 am PST by
Apple today released tvOS 14.4, the fifth update to the tvOS 14 operating system that was initially released back in September. tvOS 14.4 comes more than a month after the release of tvOS 14.3. tvOS 14.4, which is a free update, can be downloaded over the air through the Settings app on the ‌Apple TV‌ by going to System > Software Update. ‌‌‌‌Apple TV‌‌‌‌ owners who have...
14

Apple Releasing iOS 14.4 and watchOS 7.3 Later Today

Tuesday January 26, 2021 7:20 am PST by
In its Black History Month announcement this morning, Apple has confirmed that iOS 14.4 and watchOS 7.3 will be released later today. watchOS 7.3 expands the ECG app on the Apple Watch Series 4 and newer to Japan, Mayotte, Thailand, and the Philippines, while iOS 14.4 introduces a notification on iPhone 12 models with non-genuine cameras. Both software updates also add support for a new...
AirPods Pro Gen 2 Feature2

Second-Generation AirPods Pro Widely Rumored to Launch in First Half of 2021

Tuesday January 26, 2021 8:24 am PST by
Apple plans to release second-generation AirPods Pro within the first half of 2021, according to unnamed industry sources cited by Taiwanese publication DigiTimes in a report focused on flash memory supplier Winbond. From the report:Winbond is also expected to be among the NOR flash suppliers for Apple's next-generation AirPods Pro slated for launch later in the first half of this year, the...
apple watch black unity

Apple Celebrates Black History Month With Limited-Edition Watch, Featured Apps and Books, and More

Tuesday January 26, 2021 6:14 am PST by
Apple today announced that it will be celebrating Black History Month with curated content that highlights and amplifies Black creators, artists, developers, and businesses across the App Store, Apple Music, the Apple TV app, Apple Books, Apple Podcasts, and more. The content will be featured throughout the month of February. Black Unity Sport Band has "Truth. Power. Solidarity." ...
magsafecasedangle

Apple Elaborates on Potential for iPhone 12 and MagSafe Accessories to Interfere With Implantable Medical Devices

Saturday January 23, 2021 2:42 pm PST by
Since the launch of iPhone 12 models in October, Apple has acknowledged that the devices may cause electromagnetic interference with medical devices like pacemakers and defibrillators, but the company has now shared additional information. Apple added the following paragraph to a related support document today:Medical devices such as implanted pacemakers and defibrillators might contain...
14

iOS 14.4 Patches Vulnerabilities That May Have Been Actively Exploited

Tuesday January 26, 2021 12:16 pm PST by
Apple today released iOS 14.4 and iPadOS 14.4, and along with a handful of minor new features, the software introduces security fixes for three vulnerabilities that may have been used in the wild. According to a security support document shared by Apple, there were kernel and WebKit vulnerabilities affecting all iPhones and iPads running iOS or iPadOS 14. The kernel vulnerability could allow ...
matte black macbook pro colorware

Apple Researching High-End Titanium MacBook Casings With Unique Textured Finish

Tuesday January 26, 2021 7:10 am PST by
Apple is researching the use of processed titanium with unique properties for future MacBooks, iPads, and iPhones, according to a newly-granted patent application. In a filing titled "Titanium parts having a blasted surface texture," granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and spotted by Patently Apple, Apple explains how various devices could adopt titanium casings with a...