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Li-ion battery lasts as long as the notebook

Posted: 02 Feb 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Li-ion batteries? laptop batteries? notebook batteries? HP? Sanyo?

Startup Boston-Power Inc. debuts Tuesday a Li-ion battery for notebook computers that promises a faster charge time and a lifespan three times that of existing batteries. The news comes as established vendors are poised to roll out batteries using a new chemistry that delivers about 10 percent more battery life, but potentially longer charge times and shorter life cycles.

Boston Power's Sonata battery promises to deliver 1,000 charge/discharge cycles without degrading cell performance. That's about three times the lifetime of current batteries. The net result is high-end business users who consume two or three batteries with every notebook computer will be able to have one battery that lasts the life of their notebook.

'Unprecedented' reliability
"This battery is reliable in a way consumers have never seen before. Consumers will see a battery that lasts the as long as the computer," said Christina Lampe-Onnerud, chief executive of Boston-Power.

In addition, the Sonata battery can achieve an 80 percent charge in as little as 30mins and a full charge in an hour without degrading cell performance. Current batteries typically take as much as an hour to reach an 80 percent power in a fast-charge cycle that can degrade cell performance by 60-80 percent within 300 charge cycles.

"That's a big sensitive issue for the industry right now," said John Wozniak, a battery specialist at Hewlett-Packard Co.

Lampe-Onnerud said she expects HP will be the first notebook maker to use the Sonata battery, probably in one or two high-end business notebook products. Wozniak said he has received samples from the first volume pre-production run at Boston-Power's joint venture factory in Shenzhen. HP will spend several weeks testing the products before it makes a decision whether to use them.

"We're testing the products, but nothing has been approved for use. The early data looks good," Wozniak said.

Five patents
Boston Power has applied for five patents on Sonata. The company claims the battery sports as many as 30 differences from existing Li-ion batteries including its chemistry formulation and processing and the interaction of its chemicals and metals.

The company would discuss only one of those attributes, a unique cell format that is twice the size of standard Li-ion cells. Traditional so-called 1865 cells are made up of two cells and look like two alkaline batteries welded together at the top and bottom, something not required with the larger Sonata cells.

"Others have to match two cells perfectly to make sure there is no current or heat loss. We don't have that problem, so we can control impedance in a way no one else can," said Lampe-Onnerud.

The startup announced it has closed a $15.6 million Series B investment round, bringing total investment to date to $23.6 million. The new funds will help it ramp up its capacity.

Boston-Power's products are being produced with an unnamed joint venture partner in a Shenzhen factory. The plant already has the capacity to serve at least one or two lines of notebooks today. The startup plans to set up at least one more factory in the future.

New product class
The Boston-Power batteries arrive at a time when existing battery makers are about to deliver a new class of products that use nickel instead of cobalt compounds in their cathodes to deliver a 10 percent increase in battery life per charge. The new batteries are generally stepping up from about 9.5WHrs to 10.5WHrs, said Wozniak.

The new batteries, from manufacturers such as Sanyo and LG Electronics, are typically raising charge voltages from 4.2V to 4.3V, a move already being supported in the latest battery charger ICs. Panasonic, which is already shipping its batteries in its own systems, is bucking the trend with its batteries that maintain the 4.2V charge voltage but lower their discharge cutoff from 3.7V to 2.67V.

"In some cases these batteries may have longer charge times or shorter life cycles. My expectations are being lowered by the vendors," said Wozniak. "I don't have any samples yet. I was expecting them in January," he added.

- Rick Merritt

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