New project aims to develop fuel cell-based smartphone battery

Battery chemistry is holding back drones, smartphones, and the Internet of Things, according to the CEO of Intelligent Energy.

Hydrogen fuel cell smartphone battery

Hydrogen fuel developer Intelligent Energy says it's getting closer to delivering a hybrid fuel cell embedded in a smartphone, which it claims will allow smartphones to run for a week on a single charge.

Intelligent Energy says it has agreed to a deal with an existing smartphone OEM to provide the technology. It won't name the manufacturer for legal reasons, however.

Plentiful element

The hydrogen system works by combining batteries with fuel cells, which create electricity through a chemical reaction.

"Hydrogen gas and oxygen react together to produce clean energy at source," Dr. Henri Winand, CEO of Intelligent Energy, explained to me in an email. Eco-friendly water is the only by-product.

Storing energy

The solution functions differently to a simple battery-only device, which stores energy rather than generates it. This one creates the power, too.

Its solution "retains the smartphone's existing technology, including its battery," the company says in a press release. The battery is charged by the embedded miniature fuel cell without having to plug the phone into the wall.

The company

Intelligent Energy is active in fuel cell development for mobile devices. I asked Winand where he thought power technology for mobile devices was headed. He thinks it all needs to be reevaluated.

"How we access power is outdated and it's time to rethink," he told me. "Battery life can't keep up," and that limits what can be done with our devices.

Winand reckons there needs to be a radical change in thinking.

"Consumers are expecting to do more and more with their technology and will require that power sources support their usage demands," he says.

Internet of Things

Right now, power sources don't meet demand. Battery life isn't progressing much in comparison to other elements of technology.

"Battery technology has failed to advance over the past decades," Winand says.

There's "surprisingly very little innovation in battery technology and power solutions," he says.

And that's a problem for new tech too, such as IoT.

"Manufacturers are beginning to realize that battery lifetime could be a barrier to adoption of Internet of Things devices," Winand says.

UAVs

Smartphones and IoT aren't the only technologies being held back. Stamina is a major consideration when it comes to drones too.

I wrote about Intelligent Energy's drone stamina-extending project in December, which the company says will allow the machines to stay in the air longer.

Any Unmanned Aerial System commercial adoption will be reliant on longer time in the air than is available now, many think, and that means a better power solution than existing, heavy lithium-polymer.

Cameras

Intelligent Energy thinks its fuel-cell battery hybrid not only could be applied to drones, but also to the on-drone cameras, which also need powering.

That's "another critical feature for commercial drone use," Winand told me.

Global issues

One other area that Winand was keen to stress to me was the issue of global smartphone adoption.

"In some countries, power is not even readily available," he says. He cites India, where repeated power outages are common and many aren't connected to the grid anyway.

Conceivably, they won't have to be if their smartphone could be ultimately powered independently of a power source.

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