After reviewing a few portable solar chargers, it’s time to turn our attention to portable fuel cells. The concept first crossed our radar a while back in the context of military uses, where the idea is to provide today’s geared-up soldier with the lightest, most energy dense form of portable power-on-the-go. While the technology is a bit on the bulky side now, it is rapidly evolving, and so is the hydrogen supply chain.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Upp portable fuel cell from Intelligent Energy.
An Easy-To-Use Portable Fuel Cell
Whenever we get a new gadget in the mail, the first thing we look for is a streamlined, intuitive setup right out of the box along with ease of use, and the Upp hits those marks perfectly.
Upp consists of a charger and a snap-in cartridge. You can figure out how they go together just by looking at the picture on the box.
Plug in your USB device and you’re good to go.
We got a quick charge for our iPhone, which was almost depleted, and that was that.
The fun thing is, if you have other USB devices around the house you can do some experimenting. The Upp website notes other USB devices that the company has confirmed work with Upp aside from phones. We didn’t see our nifty little portable solar USB charger from a previous review on the list, but we gave it a try anyways, since this particular solar charger has a built in battery that can be recharged from a wall socket when the sun is not available. That worked out just fine, too.
What else? Oh, right. Portability. Assembled, Upp weighs about a pound or so. It is about as long as a toothbrush case and wide as a nice, fat, banana, so in terms of portability it is small and light enough to slip into your cargo pants, or your bag or backpack or whatever.
Portable Fuel Cell’s Got Your Back
Upp is a bit pricey in terms of an everyday source of reliable power-on-the-go, but then again if you can afford any of those other gadgets CleanTechnica keeps gushing about, like a Tesla or a BMWi3, portable fuel cells are chump change.
If you reside in the real world of energy budgeting, investing in a portable fuel cell can still make a lot of sense, especially when you need reliable backup or auxiliary power to conduct your business or professional activities on the go.
As an addition to your vehicle emergency kit, Upp gives you something no conventional battery can: practically unlimited shelf life. So, if your car dies in the middle of nowhere and you really need a charge for your phone, problem solved, even if you haven’t used your Upp all year.
You can also ramp up the longevity factor by investing in an extra cartridge or two. For that matter, if you bring along a portable solar charger (like this one or this one), you can reserve the fuel cell cartridge to pitch in when solar conditions aren’t helpful.
For outdoorsy stuff, portable fuel cells aren’t exactly the ultralight or ultra-small devices you want for extreme adventuring, but the Upp is plenty small and light enough for day trips, base camps, or any number of other activities.
Portable Fuel Cells, Today And Tomorrow
If you noodle around some of the portable fuel cell reviews, one issue that crops up pretty regularly is the inconvenience of buying refill cartridges.
All we can say to that is: SodaStream. SodaStream was the very first product we ever reviewed, back in 2009, and it really was a pain trying to get refill cartridges. Nowadays the cartridge vendors are more numerous in our region, and it’s like nothing to return the spent one and get a refill in the course of normal errand-running.
Upp has the added advantage of Internet connectivity, highlighted by a handy mobile app that lets you find the nearest cartridge vendor among other things.
For that matter, given the advances in “artificial leaf” renewable hydrogen production, you’re looking at a future in which you could make a one-time investment in equipment, and then get busy making your own hydrogen at home and refilling your own cartridges.
Speaking of renewable hydrogen, we’ve spilled a lot of ink about the impacts of natural gas fracking, and it’s worth bringing that up because natural gas is the primary source of hydrogen today.
However, commercial-scale renewable hydrogen production is beginning to emerge, as well as fuel cells that run on biogas.
[Correction: an earlier version of this post had Upp launching at Apple stores in the UK. That has not come about as of this writing, stay tuned for an update. The Apple angle would be an interesting development considering Apple’s interest in commercial-scale fuel cells. Apple’s banner fuel cell installation in North Carolina is currently sourced from fossil gas but the company is offsetting it with credits from a biogas operation.]
The US Army is also conducting some interesting work on producing hydrogen for portable fuel cells, by reformulating jet fuel. Right now they’re looking at fossil-sourced jet fuel but the renewable angle could come into play as next-generation biofuels enter the market.
Before we go, we gotta fess up to recycling our headline from a few years ago, when we took note of a miniature portable fuel cell under development at Oxford University. That project is interesting because it would enable you to produce hydrogen on the go, through a conversion process involving formic acid.
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