Future Devices to Be Powered By Liquidmetal Fuel Cells?
Details of Apple's plans for the Liquidmetal alloy it licensed earlier this year are beginning to take shape. Rather than a radical new computer or mobile device case, though, it's possible that one of the first uses of the light, strong alloy will be in fuel cells that will replace the batteries of future iPhones and MacBooks. Cult of Mac has discovered a patent granted to Apple
for fuel cell collector plates made of Liquidmetal, raising the possibility of mobile devices that can run for weeks without refueling.
Fuel cells take a fuel like hydrogen gas and use an oxidant like the oxygen in the air to create a chemical reaction that separates electrons from the fuel onto collector plates to produce electricity, water and heat. Spacecraft and satellites use fuel cells for onboard power, and the potential to use them to power electronic devices has been recognized for some time. MTI MicroFuel Cells is working on a "fuel cell chip
" called Mobion that uses methanol as a fuel and could fit in the palm of your hand. Apple themselves started investing in fuel cell developers as early as 2003 as an alternative power source for notebooks.
The new patent, "Current collector plates of bulk-solidifying amorphous alloys
," describes using an alloy rather than metal, nickel, or carbon nanotube materials which are commonly used for the anode and electrode plates. Liquidmetal is the trademarked name for the metallic glass - a type of "amorphous alloy" - developed by Liquidmetal Technologies. Plates need to be durable, resistant to degradation in the harsh chemical environment inside a fuel cell, able to be manufactured with a high tolerance, and strong but not brittle. Liquidmetal uniquely satisfies all these requirements, and could make a fuel cell that is cheaper and longer lasting than current designs.
When Apple licensed the technology back in August
, it was commonly believed that the material - which is as strong as titanium but as moldable as plastic - would be used for exotic case designs. That may still be the case, but it does appear that Apple has plans for fuel cells capable of powering a mobile device for up to 30 days, or a notebook for almost 20 hours. The exclusive license agreement means that no other electronics manufacturer can use the material, giving Apple a potential early lead in the technology.
Source: Cult of Mac