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The alternative to batteries: fuel cells!

The alternative to batteries: fuel cells!

If you are looking for an alternative way of powering your devices - everything from your phone to your tablet to your car! - then welcome to the world of the fuel cell.Fuel cells have for a long time been touted as a major alternative to batteries. They last a long time, can be carried easily and they don't make a mess. They use hydrogen as energy and output nothing more damaging than energy and water vapor.Late last year Intelligent Energy revealed Upp, a fuel cell motor that is personal to its user which is  not only affordable and compact but is also compatible with just about every gadget you own.


Upp can top up anything that charges via USB, including smartphones, e-readers, tablets,handheld consoles and some digital cameras.It is scaled-down from the engines that Intelligent Energy installed in London Taxis for the 2012 Olympics. It also has a 25 year pedigree behind it.


How does it work?

The system that makes up Upp is  simple. It has two parts. Magnetically attach the first part - a fuel cell cartridge - onto the second - the main body of the charger. A Micro USB port and button to turn on the power are at one end and all you do is plug in your gadget and press the button to start charging. When you are done  turn it off. Not difficult!The companion app (for both Android and Apple iOS) predicts how much usage there is left on your current cell and it optimises charging to make sure your internal battery is happy.


Why is it better than carrying around an extra battery?

Upp provides much more power than that extra battery. Indeed, its manufacturers claim a Upp charger with full capacity will completely charge a smartphone at least five times.It also beats high-capacity Li-ion batteries because in places with national grids that are unreliable, like the sub-Saharan bit of Africa where Upp was launched, Intelligent Energy has set up its own distribution network. It's more like filling up at a petrol station.Business in Africa, where much commerce is done via mobile phone text messaging, could be receiving a big boost in the arm.


Can the cartridges be reused?

Each cartridge can be used many times, but you can't refill it on your own. When you are almost devoid of gas the app arranges for a new cartridge to be sent out via courier automatically. Alternatively, because it knows where it is, it can tell you the nearest place for a refill. Of course for this to really take off relies upon the distribution network and its efficiency. The devices cost about $200 each. Sounds expensive but Intelligent Energy says it is not just a clever little gadget. It is more because the fuel cell inside can be licensed by other companies to use as they please.


This means that there are a lot more potential uses for this Upp device - inside and outside our homes, with the potential for much flexibility as things develop.

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