Upp Fuel Cell Energy Power full review
At first glance the Upp Fuel Cell Energy battery charger appears absurd – huge, heavy, expensive, and difficult to top up; and that’s ignoring its alarming onboard warnings of being highly flammable and combustible.
But the Upp Fuel Cell has two things going for it. First, it’s the first generation of an interesting new technology that could hold a lot of promise for all us in the dreamed-for clean-energy future. And second, it beats normal rechargers in certain situations: most notably in environments or longer-term situations when there’s no electricity within reach for recharging.
In summary, while it’s currently inconvenient for everyday situations it is well suited to situations that are inconvenient. For more standard power battery packs see our round up of the Best Power Banks and portable chargers.
Before saying anything else, three cheers for the Upp as an innovative British product. Intelligent Energy is a UK company, based in Loughborough, using technologies that could have massive impacts for future power products, such as electric cars.
Intelligent Energy is focused on delivering efficient, clean energy technology for consumer electronics, automotive and distributed power and generation markets – from compact battery packs for mobile devices, to power-trains for zero-emission vehicles.
Upp is no standard battery power bank. It uses hydrogen fuel cells, which are often touted as the future of clean energy. It converts hydrogen into water, using chemical energy to release electrons that generate a current.
Each refillable fuel cartridge contains 2.23g of hydralloy C5 – a hydrogen fuel combining titanium, zirconium, vanadium, iron, chromium, manganese and hydrogen – which can generate enough power to charge up to five iPhones or two to three Android smartphones (which have larger batteries than the iPhone), or one tablet.
The Upp Fuel Cell Energy charger costs £149, with the Hydrogen Micro Generator and one reusable Fuel Cartridge.
Upp's Fuel Cell is not a battery, so you can’t charge it from the mains like most power banks. This means its principal usage environment is when you’re away from the power grid for longer than conventional battery packs allow.
You can buy multiple cartridges to take with you. You get one with the original unit, and can buy extra cartridges for £49 each, which then cost £5.95 to refill when you exchange an old used one at one of the Upp resellers.
The design is very neat. The Micro Generator connects magnetically to the cartridge.
You connect your battery-starved devices via the USB port at the top of the Generator section.
Push the power button to start the PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) electrochemical reaction that generates electricity to recharge the device. That sounds more impressive than what goes on with most battery power packs.
As the top unit has its own internal battery to power fans and exhaust water vapour it too can run out of juice. Imagine the irony. You charge this top unit via the USB port in the dust cap, which features a tiny plastic cover that looks rather too easy to lose.
It’s big: the Generator is 12cm long, and the cartridge is 9cm. And it’s heavy: the two sections together weigh a mighty 620g.
The Upp Fuel Cell promises a week’s energy for your smartphone, and should charge a dead smartphone up to five times before requiring a new fuel cartridge. Remember that some phones have larger batteries than others.
Upp Fuel Cell vs Power Banks
Each Fuel Cell Cartridge is rated at a whopping 25,000mAh (the iPhone 6 has an internal battery of 1,850mAh).
The Upp Fuel Cell weighs 235g, and the cartridge weighs another 385g, totaling 620g.
In comparison the LimeFuel Blast L240X Pro battery pack, with similar 24,000mAh capacity, weighs 505g and costs around £100 – and you can recharge without needing to buy extra cartridges as you do with the Upp.
If you’re away from an electric socket for a long time then maybe lugging round multiple 385g cartridges makes more weight and economical sense than several L240X Pro power banks; see our comparison below. But for a few days away, taking one or more lighter rechargeable power banks makes more sense.
Another option would be taking a bunch of very affordable and smart Intocircuit Power Castle power packs, which are rated at 11,200mAh and cost just £21 each. Each bank weighs just 265g.
Say you need to take away 100,000mAh of charge for various devices: smartphones, tablets, cameras, etc. The Upp option totalling 100mAh would cost £298.85 upfront (main unit and free cartridge, plus three extra cartridges), as cartridges cost £49.95 each new, and the main unit plus cartridge is £149.
Obviously with just a £5.95 exchange cost the second round would be much cheaper.
For 100,000mAh of L240X packs the initial price would be a much heftier £400, but practically free to recharge later. It would cost £23.80 to refill the four Upp catridges.
Pack nine Power Castles and you’d have change from £200, but not many pockets left.
Upp Fuel Cell: app
The lack of an LED display or lights showing the remaining charge is initially a disappointment, but fear not as far more detailed data is available via the Upp app (iOS and Android), which tells you the exact percentage of energy left in the cartridge, which is more than you get with an average power bank. The aforementioned Intocircuit Power Castle should get a nod here, too.
The Upp app is full of detailed data on an easy-to-understand dashboard, and points the way forward for all consumer electronics power solutions.
Set to EcoMode you can tell the Upp to switch off when you reach a certain charge – the default is 85 percent. Smartphone batteries last longer if not charged right up to 100% each time.
Upp Fuel Cell: cartridge exchange shops
You buy the replacement cartridges via fuel cell exchangers listed on the Upp website. These are few and far between right now (although they can be found in Apple Stores, we’re promised), but if the technology takes off we’d expect more to be added. This might, however, turn off all but the earliest adopters.
Upp Fuel Cell: safety
Hydrogen is highly flammable, so isn’t the Upp rather dangerous? The seal created when the two sections magnetically join stops leakage. When disconnected the device automatically switches off supply.
Upp says that, despite the combustible warnings, you are permitted to take the charger on to planes in your hand luggage. I charged a camera using the Upp while on the tube in London and got a few worried glances as I put the whole thing together like a power sniper, so be prepared for questioning at airport security.
As the Generator uses fans to blow air across the fuel cell, you have to use the Upp is a well-ventilated area, and not within a bag like you can a standard power bank.
The Upp has a few other idiosyncrasies you don’t get from standard battery packs.
When charging it makes a few, disconcerting snapping noises over the slight but constant whirring hiss. Some users report that it also emits a slight but not unpleasant smell, although we missed that in our tests.
Upp Fuel Cell: what it’s suited to
We can see the potential for the Upp in extreme off-grid situations where you are away from civilization for maybe a couple of weeks at a time. A gang of festival goers might take one along to store in their tent and recharge multiple phones as required.
But you wouldn’t take more than a couple of cartridges with you if you were on foot and carrying everything on your back.
The Upp Fuel Cell looks very chic and undoubtedly has bundles of hydrogen tech cool. It’s the first real sign of an alternative tech for charging all our portable devices. In the future you can imagine carrying this around to charge up your electric car.
It’s worth remembering that this is a first-generation product, and it holds much promise. Today it feels too unwieldy for everyday situations to recharge your phone, tablet or camera, but it will find fans in those on long-haul expeditions.
Upp Fuel Cell Energy Power: Specs
- Each cartridge rated at 25,000mAh. Voltage: 5V
- Rated Power: 5W
- Maximum Output Current: 1000mA
- Electrical Interface: USB Type A Socket
- Fuel Cell Type: PEM Proton Exchange Membrane
- Fuel Cartridge Capacity: 25wh
- Fuel Type: Hydrogen
- Storage Medium: Metal Hydride
- Upp Fuel Cell: 119.5mm x 40mm x 48mm
- Inc. Dust Cap Adaptor: 124.5mm x 40mm x 48mm
- Upp Fuel Cartridge: 90.5mm x 40mm x 48mm
- Upp Fuel Cell: 235g
- Upp Fuel Cartridge: 385g