New batteries

LIKE THE QUEST FOR the improved mousetrap or the bug-free operating system, the search for the ideal battery never ends. The latest entry in the better battery sweepstakes is Electrofuel's lithium-ion superpolymer technology, which the Toronto-based company claims will run a conventional notebook computer for up to 15 hours.

While conventional lithium-ion batteries offer about 250 to 270 watt-hours of power per liter, Electrofuel's technology raises the ante to an impressive 470 watt-hours per liter. The company was able to achieve its breakthrough by using a patented battery technology and a proprietary manufacturing process. "Extended battery life is the holy grail for portable device vendors," says Rob Enderle, vice president for desktop and mobile technologies at Giga Information Group, a technology research company in Santa Clara, Calif. "The problem is making high-capacity batteries affordable and compact enough that people will want to buy them."

Flexible superpolymer chemistry allows Electrofuel to mold batteries into virtually any size and shape. A power pack can be as small as a credit card to energize a mobile phone or as large as a briefcase to propel an electric car. The technology retains up to 95 percent of its charge after 30 days and doesn't suffer from the capacity-eroding "memory effect" that afflicts nickel-cadmium and other types of batteries when they are recharged before being fully depleted.

Electrofuel's first product is the notebook-computer-compatible PowerPad 160, which provides a 160 watt-hour capacity and a run-time of 16 hours. Priced at $499, the two-pound unit attaches underneath a notebook's base, adding about an extra 3/8-inch of thickness to the system. The product connects through the AC adapter port, so the notebook thinks it's plugged into a wall socket. PowerPad 50, 100 and 200 models are scheduled for release later this year at prices ranging from $199 to $799.

Enderle believes that the pricing levels seem about right. Yet he also feels that Electrofuel's best chance for long-term success hinges on whether the company can cut licensing deals with portable device vendors. "Many corporate buyers simply won't purchase add-ons produced by an unknown vendor," he says. "It also makes a lot of sense to bundle the battery with a new product." An Electrofuel spokesman says the company is currently negotiating licensing deals with several manufacturers.

Electrofuel also envisions applications for its technology in the budding wearable computer field. Enderle also believes wearable computer customers would find moldable, high-capacity batteries very useful. "This could become a market niche for companies like Electrofuel," he says.

This story, "New batteries" was originally published by CIO.

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