Canon Fuel Cell DSLR Update

As you may recall, Photography Bay previously reported on Canon’s efforts to patent a method for using fuel cells to power your DSLR. A newly published patent application (US 2008/0180565) sheds a little more light on things to come with fuel cell powered DSLRs.

Canon continues to push its fuel cell development by devising a method for powering not only the internal DSLR body electronics, but also external components such as lenses and hotshoe flashes.

The present invention relates to an electronic equipment system having fuel cells, and more particularly, to a camera system in which fuel cells are provided to a camera body and a connection device connected to the camera body. [0001]

Say Goodbye to AA Batteries

Essentially, Canon wants its fuel cell to power everything you attach to your camera. That’s right. No more AA batteries to stuff into your camera bag.

. . . dual battery control of detecting a remaining amount of the battery in each of the devices and determining the state of each of the batteries to control electric power supply, which makes the battery control complicated. [0010]

The patent is a little long winded (as patents can be); however, the gist of it is to have a single power source (i.e., the fuel cell) and that source powers everything (e.g., hotshoe flash).

. . . an electronic equipment system in which fuel cells are provided to an electronic equipment body [ed., a DLSR body] and a connection device [ed., a hotshoe flash] connected to the electronic equipment body, and in which detection of a battery remaining amount and control of electric power supply can be performed under unified management [ed., one fuel cell], thereby enabling simplification of the electronic equipment system and improvement of power generation efficiency thereof. [0011]

The blissful absence of partially charged batteries and wonder whether the four batteries you stuffed in the side pocket last week were good or bad. No more battery chargers plugged into your kitchen outlets. Basically, the best invention since sliced bread . . . ok, maybe not, but it is interesting nonetheless.

What’s It All Mean?

MTI Micro Fuel Cell Battery Pack for Canon DSLRFirst of all, Canon’s always going to push digital imaging innovation to the next level. Clearly, the competition is too stiff to try to lay low now. Canon stays at the top of the patent filings charts due to this drive.

With this changing tech comes the new gear. In this case, fuel-cell DSLRs means a lot of new gear – maybe even a new system. At the very least, it calls for the purchase of new speedlights with your camera body. I suppose, however, that Canon could allow backwards compatibility of battery-powered electronic flashes with this fuel cell power source.

Finally, it should lessen our carbon footprint as photographers in the digital age. Many of us are starting to think real hard about environmental issues in this changing world climate and economy. How many fewer AA batteries would our landfills see if the every digital camera user suddenly switched to fuel cells? It’s a start.

If you want to read the whole patent, feel free to look it up on the USPTO website (patent application # US 2008/0180565) or follow this direct link.



  1. Pete says

    That is pretty cool for years down the road, but perhaps Canon would do better if they could release a modern professional camera that has reliable auto-focus?

  2. Asterix says

    Who uses disposable AA’s? Modern rechargeables last more or less forever. I’d rather have a charger on my kitchen counter than a hydrogen cylinder. And the power to generate the hydrogen or recharge the batteries comes from the same green/not green source the power company uses. Spent hydrogen cells would go to the same landfill. The idea that this is eco-friendly is a non-starter.

    As seen in the auto and computer industries, the real benefits of fuel cells over electrolytic batteries is greater energy storage density. For cameras this translates to more pictures between (fuel cell/battery) swaps. I think the gain here would have to be stupendous to get people to buy a whole new system.

  3. Neil says

    Why would they include fuel-cell components in the lens and the flash? Why not just have the fuel cell in the body and use a simple electrical connection to power the sub-components. It seems like needless complexity on what could be a very simple, and elegant design.

  4. Mike says

    This patent is as stupid as patenting the use of rechargable AA batteries instead of real AA batteries … but in a camera!

    And what does this have to do with one’s carbon footprint? Acquiring the hydrogen is going to be done with a process which emits c02.

  5. says

    As Mike pointed out, the most efficient means of generating hydrogen these days involves the conversion of methane and steam (water vapor) into hydrogen, with CO2 as a byproduct. Electrolysis is comparatively inefficient, and unless you’re powering electrolysis with nuclear or some renewable source of electricity (e.g., solar, hydro, wind), you’re going to be emitting CO2 at the power plant.

    Another problem with hydrogen is storage — metal hydrides have a weight problem, and compressed cylinders of hydrogen can explode in extreme heat or if damaged. I live in Arizona — definitely wouldn’t want to have compressed H2 in a cylinder, even a small one, in my expensive camera, especially if my gear has to sit in a hot car for any length of time. Even if you manage to engineer a safe storage mechanism, you’re still going to lose H2 over time because no storage medium is perfect, and molecular hydrogen is tiny. (Hydrogen atoms even more so!) While some H2 will react with the oxygen and ozone in the atmosphere, the rest will eventually be lost to space.

    Hydrogen isn’t an energy source because all the hydrogen on planet Earth is chemically bonded to other elements. It’s just an energy storage medium. If that’s the game, we’re better off developing better energy storage media like the new lithium-phosphate rechargeables that are being used in newer power tools and (I hope) future hybrid and electric cars.

  6. Jon says

    The reason for having the hydrogen go to each of the subcomponents (such as lens and hotshoe) is that there must be an oxygen-permeable membrane for the fuel cell to breathe. Adding more power-sucking devices means adding more area of oxygen permeable membrane. Each device will have its own fuel cell for the actual generation, but the main body will hold the hydrogen tank which is shared between all the cells. This will make recharge easier.
    With this said, I’m not sure this patent really says anything other than “Canon doesn’t want other companies to be able to make easy-to-recharge fuel-cell cameras” IMHO, This patent represents only a single trivial idea: Distribute the hydrogen from one tank to the entire camera. It does not represent ANY investment yet on Canon’s part, except for the filing fees on what appears to be a protectionary patent. Oh, and let us never forget the lawyers’ well earned fees, either.

  7. says

    Hydrogen fuel cells do not lower your carbon footprint, because it takes as much if not more energy to create the fuel cells. Sounds good on paper, is a clean technology when the end user uses it, but absolutely filthy when being manufactured.

  8. Lisan al Gaib says

    Hydrogen fuel cells only explode when hit with the pulse from a lasgun, seriously people. Nikon is also making a camera with a plasteel body powered by the electrochemical reactions of a standard stillsuit; which most people should already have. Should be perfect for people living in Arakeen or Northern/Central Africa.

  9. says

    One thing that nobody has mentioned yet (and I’m far from pro-hydrogen) is that they might not utilise this patent until 2020, or at a time in the future where the process of charging and recharging could be dramatically different (in pricing and perhaps methodology) than it is at present.

    It’s an interesting idea, but it’s still very reassuring to have a spare battery with you. :)

  10. Patrick says

    ok first off having less battery’s in the land fills will lesson the foot print and why would you throw away the fuel cell. its built into the camera you just refill it. and yes power plants are dirty but this is still MUCH cleaner then having that same power plant power a factory to make the battery that you then use then throw away then it breaks down and pollutes the land and water in that area. really people start thinking. hydrogen is clean even if the place you get power from is not. we the people must take the first move to make are side clean. then the power company’s will switch over next but thats not your problem the power company’s are the governments problem worry about making your life cleaner don’t worry where the power comes from that will come in time. nothing happens till you take the first step.

  11. says

    Whatever, in every new camera, you have to buy everything new, new batteries, new grip and new memory cards soon. I own some CF cards and will probably have to buy some SDHC, even I don’t like it.