The science behind hydrogen fuel cells has been assisting astronauts for nearly half a century already, so it’s right around time that they became small enough to be of some use for everyone else. That’s where Intelligent Energy comes into play. The company claims to have developed a USB charger that incorporates the latest hydrogen fuel cell system, called the “Upp.” Weighing in at just around 500 grams with a retail price of $199, it’s not really meant to compete with regular lithium ion battery packs. Actually, the Upp operates in quite a different way.
For one thing, you technically don’t need to charge it. Just plug in its hydrogen cartridge and its ready to go immediately. One cartridge can yield just around five charges for a smartphone, with each charge taking no longer than any other USB charger would. When you’re running low, an accompanying app either triggers the delivery of a new cartridge (perhaps by mail, if you’ve signed up to that sort of service) or directs you to the nearest store so you can exchange it. Unlike some of the other personal fuel cells currently “in production”, the Upp is a finished product that is ready for sale. The version issued for the primary release is built like a tank and designed to work in the high temperatures of sub-Saharan Africa, where it’ll be sold first by mobile operators to customers in areas with unreliable electricity infrastructure.