Three Guys and a Podcast

Three Guys and a Podcast: Apple News & Analysis

May 25, 2011 at 8:27am Pacific Time
by: Karl Johnson
Categories: iPad, iPhone, MacBook
tagged: Battery

Apple has improved their batteries in two ways over the past couple of years. In January 2009, Apple improved their battery capacity by as much as sixty percent in the MacBook Pro 17-inch. This was largely due to removing the packages that made the battery removable, which mainly allowed for a bigger battery. Apple also added a chip that controls each cell’s current for maximizing battery life.

Last fall, Apple debuted new battery technology which allows thirty days of standby power. While not as big of a feature on MacBooks, due to frequent use, it still changes day to day use by not requiring the battery to be charged everyday. With thirty days of standby power, mobile devices will have the power when the user needs it. These are nice advancements, but there are new battery technologies which Apple could incorporate into their products soon. Lets take a look at some of the more interesting potential battery improvements that are just on the horizon.

EEStor is trying to create an ultra-capacitor battery out of barium-titanate powders which was first announced back in 2007. This type of battery could power anything from cars to mobile devices. The problem with storing energy in a capacitor is weight. Lithium-ion batteries store 25 times more energy per pound. EEStor is hoping to get past this shortcoming with their new technology. They claim their solution can get 280 watt hours per kilogram compared with 120 for lithium-ion battery. That could more than double the battery life for most MacBooks. Capacitors have two big advantages, which are fast recharge rates and almost endless recharge cycles with little or no memory. Looking at this technology another way, electric v cars could be charged in as little as 10 minutes. Unfortunately, this is still a long-shot technology, so don’t look for it to come out soon. The blog TheEEEtory keeps up with this technology and the company behind it. No doubt others are also working on improving capacitor type batteries.

Another new invention uses cone shaped nano-material to improve lithium-ion batteries charge and discharge capabilities. This new technology called Nanoscoops was developed at the Rensseler Polytechnic Institute and could have sixty times faster charge rates. Unfortunately, this is another technology that is still a good 5-10 years away if successful.

A more realistic technology came out of Stanford in 2007 that uses Nanowires to remake lithium-ion batteries. This new technology has the capability of lasting eight times longer than current batteries. At this capacity, MacBooks would last 50 hours instead of 7, which would revolutionize the battery market. Each of these technologies have problems researchers need to overcome before going to market and this one is no different. Nanowires major issue is the number of recharge cycles. Over time, these batteries are losing their charge much faster than the rest. Still, it is a problem the developers think they can overcome. In 2010, the developers demonstrated a battery that lasted 250 cycles before dropping below eighty percent capacity. The group expects to reach 3000 cycles (well beyond todays cycling technology) by 2012 and have cell phone prototypes this year.

The last technology we will look at is something less revolutionary, but is coming out soon. Leyden Energy is launching a battery replacement program for its new line of lithium-ion batteries. Today’s batteries usually only last about a year before starting to lose the ability to fully charge. These batteries are said to last 3 years and have a 3 year warranty to back it up. This technology would help improve Apple’s products across the board from iPods to MacBook Pros. Users would greatly welcome a battery that can be fully charged even after three years.

While there had been many new battery technologies that have been demonstrated, very few ever come to market. There is a big difference between theory and practice. There is also another big difference between lab demonstration and full production. The first two technologies are long-shots and unlikely to ever go into production. The last two technologies would totally change the way we think about our mobile devices. It would free users from constantly having to recharge our mobile devices.

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