Intelligent Energy offers Upp, a $200 phone-charging fuel cell

The device from Intelligent Energy stores enough energy to charge a phone about five times over. It's launching in Africa first and the rest of the world in 2014.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
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The Upp combines a charger and a detachable hydrogen cartridge to supply about 5 full phone charges.
The Upp combines a charger and a detachable hydrogen cartridge to supply about 5 full phone charges. Intelligent Energy

There are plenty of battery-powered chargers on the market to top up on your smartphone during a long day's use. But a company called Intelligent Energy hopes to go a step beyond that with a $200 hydrogen fuel cell device called Upp.

The device has a detachable cartridge that has 25 amp-hours (25,000mAh) of charge -- more than 10 times the 1,800mAh to 2,300mAh common in today's smartphones. In practice, a single cartridge is good enough for five charges, the company said.

The company is aiming for emerging markets first -- it announced the Upp at the AfricaCom conference and plans to start selling it in Africa in December. Other markets worldwide will get it throughout 2014, the company said.

It'll cost money to use, with subscriptions for new cartridges costing about $10 a month and perhaps as low as $5 a month. Cartridges can be reused.

The Upp's hydrogen cartridge can be detached from the fuel cell.
The Upp's hydrogen cartridge can be detached from the fuel cell. Intelligent Energy

Fuel cells are somewhat like refuelable batteries. They convert hydrogen and oxygen into water and heat, producing electrical current along the way. Although they have been used successfully at times -- the Apollo spacecraft, for example -- engineering challenges have meant hard times for fuel cell makers trying to push them into other markets such as low-pollution vehicles. Mobile devices, with broad appeal and an insatiable appetite for power, represent a massive new market.

The Upp devices will be sold through various regional partners, the company said. An Upp app will let people find nearby suppliers.

The charger, which connects to phones via a USB cable, measures 120x40x48mm, and the cartridge measures 91x40x48mm. That means that together, the two are about nine inches long. The charger weighs 235g, or about a half pound, and the cartridge weighs 385g, or about 0.85 pounds.