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Apple gets patent for solar-powered gear

Judging from its patent activity, Apple is keen on using small solar panels to charge its portable electronics.

The sun may be in your iPhone battery's future.

Yesterday, Apple received Patent No. 7,868,582 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for powering electronics partially with solar power.

The patent, which was originally filed in 2009, describes a system of using a solar panel for charging different portable devices, including a notebook computer, tablet, phone, or other handheld gadget.

A diagram from Apple's new patent. Screen capture by Martin LaMonica/CNET

It specifically deals with converting the power from a solar panel to meet the power requirements of electronics. The system includes a voltage converter that ensures the available solar power can be converted and used to recharge batteries.

The solar panel could either be embedded in the device or be removable, according to the patent.

Although Apple has not yet released any solar-powered gadgets, it's clear that the company is interested in letting people use sunlight to charge when they can't get to an AC outlet. It's the fourth patent that Apple has received related to solar power, according to Patently Apple.

There are already a number of third-party solar chargers designed for Apple equipment. Solar charger makers say that Apple products are particularly demanding in terms of the quality of power needed to effectively use solar panels.

Apple has taken a number of steps to make its product more environmentally friendly by phasing out toxic chemicals and using recyclable aluminum in its products. Last year, it also released a line of rechargeable batteries that it says will last longer and are more energy efficient than others.