Hydrogen fuel cell powered iPhone: Don't hold your breath for it

All jazzed up that your next iPhone could be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell that can last an entire week without needing a recharge? Don't hold your breath for it.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Yesterday the tech media was buzzing following a report that was published in The Telegraph that a British company had shoved a hydrogen fuel cell into an iPhone allowing it to go a week between recharges. Killer feature, right? Right?

Maybe not.

Before you start throwing handfuls of cash at your displays in an attempt to buy this amazing iPhone, allow me to be the wet blanket that injects some "reality" into the conversation.

Part of the problem seems to be that people have misread the original article, partly because the piece made some statements that were easy to misinterpret. For example:

"A British technology company has claimed a major smartphone breakthrough by developing an iPhone that can go a week without recharging, running instead off a built-in hydrogen fuel cell."

There's only one company that can be "developing an iPhone," and that's Apple. What this company -- called Intelligent Energy -- has done is retrofit a fuel cell into an iPhone, which is an entirely different thing. In fact, I'm 100 percent convinced that the iPhone only appears in this equation because people seem obsessed about all things iPhone.

Next there appears to be confusion over what this fuel cell actually is. First we're told that the company "has incorporated a fuel cell system into the current iPhone 6 without any alteration to the size or shape of the device" and that it is so small and thin that it can be fitted into an iPhone 6 "without alterations and retaining the rechargeable battery." But we're also told that the iPhone has vents cut into it for the water vapor generated by the fuel cell to outgas and that the headphone jack has been converted to act as a port to inject hydrogen into the fuel cell.

Those sounds like some heavy modifications.

Then the piece goes on to talk about a commercial product the company is working on for "a disposable cartridge that would slot into the bottom of future smartphones and contain enough hydrogen-releasing powder for a week of normal use without recharging."

Slot into the bottom of what? Where? The lightning port? I'm confused. Also, disposable? I thought we were moving away from such waste?

A photo or two would help clear all this up, but the only pictures are from an iFixit teardown of a regular iPhone.

Yes, hydrogen fuel cells are real, and I have no doubt that Intelligent Energy has put together an iPhone that runs on this technology (because, quite frankly, no one would care if it was a Lumia or Galaxy S6) that works, but this sounds like it's both a prototype and nothing to do with Apple. It doesn't even seem ready for a photo.

What it sounds like is that the company is developing some sort of disposable cartridge that plugs into something that can develop power for a week, but unless these are dirt cheap I'm having a hard time understanding why they're any better than an external battery pack that isn't disposable (apart from the "hey, it's a hydrogen fuel cell" bragging rights).

There's certainly no fuel cell going to be powering your next iPhone.

Top picks:

Seven 'must-have' MacBook Pro accessories (July 2015)

Editorial standards