Opinion: Recharge your engineering batteries
August 25, 2008 //
Lithium-ion batteries are currently the preferred power source of a number of todayŐs most popular consumer products: including laptops, mobile phones and, increasingly, cars. However, the alarm bells have been ringing for lithium-ion technology.
Lithium-ion batteries are currently the preferred power source of a number of today's most popular consumer products: including laptops, mobile phones and, increasingly, cars. However, the alarm bells have been ringing for lithium-ion technology.
European and American car makers have begun to realize that although the main reason for developing hybrid vehicles was to reduce dependence on overseas oil there is a real danger of creating a new dependence on foreign materials for lithium-ion batteries.
Asian companies dominate the mass production of rechargeable batteries worldwide which is why the batteries for GM's Chevrolet Volt are likely to be made in South Korea or China. In the short term more than half of the lithium needed for these batteries is expected to come from South America but within a decade about 40 percent of the lithium will probably be supplied by China.
The result could well be that the rising cost of raw materials and manufacture will restrict the growth of lithium-ion battery sales just when they should be starting to hit the road.
Lithium-ion batteries also seem to be facing fresh challenges in the portable electronics market. They may hold a 90 percent share of a $5 billion worldwide market but the new generations of iPods, mobile phones, and laptops are all power-hungry devices and lithium-ion is struggling to keep pace with the demands that these devices are posing on a number of levels.
The problem is that product development timescales within the battery industry are often counted in years if not decades rather than months. That is why there is likely to be much interest in a new battery contender that was due to go on show last week at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco with ZPower demonstrating the performance of its silver-zinc rechargeable battery for consumer devices. The new battery provides up to 40 percent more run time than lithium-ion batteries and uses silver and zinc that are fully recyclable whereas the main constituents of lithium-ion batteries cannot be reused. Silver-zinc batteries also feature a water-based chemistry that is free from the thermal runaway and flammability problems that have plagued the lithium-ion alternatives.
Silver-zinc technology has been used by the military and aerospace industries for decades and has a long history of providing a high energy-density battery but its traditional short cycle life of about 20 to 25 recharge cycles has hampered its application in the consumer market. The new battery design is aiming to achieve several hundred full charge/discharge cycles.
A new notebook PC product featuring the ZPower extended life battery is expected to start shipping early in 2009 but the notebook will be able to work with either silver-zinc or lithium ion batteries. So how many years will it be before silver-zinc becomes a realistic rival to lithium-ion?
Come back in a decade and I will give you the answer.
Meanwhile to keep abreast of the latest developments in battery technologies as well as a whole range of other power management issues that will impact the European market visit www.powermanagement-europe.com.
Site editor of Power Management DesignLine Europe
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