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Batteries Will Power A Wide Assortment of Interesting and Unique Holiday Gifts
by Tim Georgi

Adobe Photoshop ImageFor author Tim and ‘wannabe Christmas Moose,’ Toby, visions of sugarplums will be enchanced with holiday gifts powered by batteries. Floor cleaners, hedge clippers, cell phones, DVD players, bike speedometers, satellite radio receivers and cutesy clocks all have a common denominator of battery power. Not only will the initial product offerings increase the use of batteries, but the aftermarket for replacements will also expand because of the long-term image of the products. The article points to new, popular and unique devices which will expand the use of batteries.

Holiday Gifts - battery-operated portables

The average consumer currently spends $1,250 annually on consumer electronics a year.  This figure comes from a study by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) in May 2005.  CEA also  notes that the average U.S. household  owns an average of 25 consumer high drain devices that use batteries.  The December tradition of giving gifts helps to increase this number because more and more consumers ask for  electronic gifts  that can be used for  their “on-the go” and “always connected” life-styles.  In fact, in the last three months of the year, 1/3 of all batteries are sold.  

Sales Projections

Although  market sentiment is very unpredictable, CEA has some positive notes on sales in consumer electronics; the association sees sales up 8.8% for 2005 compared with 2004.   There is a surging demand for MP3 players. Strong growth is also seen in wireless phones and navigation equipment, lifting 2005 sales of these two items to an expected rise of 14.9 percent to $21.8 billion.

Sales of primary batteries are also tracked by CEA ; the factory $$$ value in 2004 was $5,730,000 and the 2005  projection is $6,260,000.  Although all electronics are not portable, the preliminary outlook for 2005 for the total industry (portable and hardwired)  is $112.9 billion.

If the Yuletide season does as well as noted in a preliminary estimate  (09/05) by Jay McIntosh of Ernst & Young,  sales growth would be between 6% and 7% in the November and December retailing stretch compared with the same period last year.  In a survey or 2,100 consumers by NPD Group, Inc., shoppers are planning to spend $681 this holiday season; last year the figure was $644.  The National Retail Federation anticipates holiday sales in  November and December will rise five percent; this is positive news,  but last year the  figure was even greater; 2004 had a 6.7 percent increase.   

This fall, while retailing was creating sales by enticing consumers  with “you can’t refuse a bargain,”   Richard Hastings, a senior retailing analyst of Bernard Sands, LLC, commented  that he   anticipates  the December holidays will bring the most heavily discounted prices in three years.  Commenting on the electronic industry in early September,  CEO Gary Shipiro of CEA states, “ The consumer electronics industry continues  to enjoy healthy growth and consumers  are faring even better thanks to competitive pricing and overall price deflation.  While price declines and competition places pressure on profit margins, these factors also help drive total unit sales as consumers flock to join the digital era.”

In looking at the plethora of products available for purchase this year,  the staff at Batteries Digest has selected a few portable battery-operated  products  which just might be packaged under the tree and ready- to-go.  (See the imbedded boxes in this article for a view of these gifts and the type of battery which powers each one.)

Microsoft Excel Chart
One of the most popular items is a digital camera.   Cameras that have 5 mega pixels will be sold for under $100.  However, the most popular camera sold this past year was the 4 mega pixel camera (accounting for about 50 percent of sales). For the low budget, digital cameras will hit stores this year for as low as $29.00.  Disposable digital cameras are falling to $20 or less in the retail market.  According to CEA (Consumer Electronic Association) research, 84 percent of the digital camera owners are satisfied with their purchase.  Digital cameras are no longer a niche market for camera buffs; they are for everyone. CEA market research states that 49 percent of U.S. households have a digital camera. CEA notes that projected sales will reach $6 billion in 2005 and an average unit price is projected to be $265.00
According to an article, “Cannon: Combat-Ready,” in Business Week (09/05/05), Cannon digital cameras are most popular and have 23.6% of the global markets here. Sony holds second place, with a 23.2% share. (Data for chart is courtesy of CEA Research.) +

The impact of batteries on portables

Batteries are the heart of portable devices.  In fact, Nicholas Brathwaite of Flextronics notes that batteries and chargers     are among the three or four most expensive components in many electronic portables.  (“Tech Angst over Battery Costs,” Red Herring -The Business of Technology, 09/19/05) The batteries which power each portable product are critical to the performance of the  unit and how it functions.   With more and more features on each portable, power  and power management is more important than ever.  

Primaries- no charger needed

Consumer applications will account for more than 70 percent of all primary battery sales by 2009, according to  the Freedonia Group. In their report on “Batteries” in May, Freedonia stated, “Demand for primary batteries will be fueled by the ever-increasing number of battery-operated devices in use, such as digital cameras and MP3 players.”

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The Milwaukee Electric Company’s tool kit contains a 6-1/2-inch circular saw, reciprocating saw, ½-inch hammer drill, and a flashlight. All of the tools were tested with the new V28 Lithium-ion battery. A ½-inch drive impact wrench was also tested. It took nine years for R&D at Milwaukee Electric Tool to develop a Lithium-ion battery for power tools. This Lithium-ion battery is lighter in weight and has about 1-1/2 times more power and twice the run time than a Nickel-cadmium or a Nickel-metal hydride battery. The V28 Lithium-ion will still operate at peak levels when it is used under extreme conditions such as hot and cold temperatures or battery heating due to heavy use. When the company developed the Lithium-ion battery, the development team added a new feature, which is the fuel gauge. This gauge indicates the levels of charge. On the bottom of the battery, the four LED lights indicate the battery charge condition. When all LED lights are brightly lit, the battery is fully charged. (Phot os courtes of Milwaukee Electric Tool Company.) +

Dominating the batteries and market today are Alkalines with a 54.3% share in the US market, generating over US$1.5 billion in 2003.  This trend will continue to be positive and by 2008, Europemonitor International (a consumer market research firm) estimates that Alkaline batteries will remain dominant, accounting for close to US$2 billion, or 53.7% of the total market value.   Consumers might  consider purchasing a few extras - perhaps a good stocking stuffer.  

Although more expensive, Lithium primary batteries are beginning to offer Alkalines some competition.  For example, Energizer has both AA and AAA e2 Lithium batteries on the market.  These weigh one third less than traditional Alkalines and can operate under conditions where Alkaline  batteries would fail, temperatures ranging from -400 F to 1400 F. Although results vary with camera usage, e2 batteries can last up to seven times longer in digital cameras (vs. leading ordinary Alkaline batteries).  Translating this time duration  into an ordinary application, a person could take up to 650 digital pictures with the e2 lithium batteries versus up to 90 with Alkaline  batteries.  Another factor in favor of the e2 is a longer shelf life, up to 15 years vs. seven years for an Alkaline.  However, the consumer must be aware of the cost difference; on one site on the  WEB, one four pack of AA Energizer Lithium batteries was selling for $7.87 whereas a 25 pack  of Energizer AA Alkalines cost $7.75.

Robot Vacuum Cleaner
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iRobot  has come out with a new vacuum and floor scrubber. It is called the Scooba. It will vacuum, wash and dry hard wood, tile, and linoleum floors. The Scooba will go automatically to the charger when it is done cleaning the room or when the battery is low. If you want the Scooba to clean only one room, just put up a virtual wall which operates on two D - cells Alkaline primary batteries. This virtual wall will keep the Scooba in the one room that you want to clean. The Scooba has a rechargeable battery. (Photo is courtesy of iRobot and A & R Partners, Inc.) +

There are many individuals who want disposable batteries and do not want to store and carry a variety of chargers for all their portables.  Many devices such as digital cameras offer that choice; the user can either carry extra primary batteries or recharge his/her designated Nickel-metal hydride or Lithium-ion battery.

Rechargeables - forecast to rise faster than primaries

The iZ is a toy which plays music. It comes in three different colors: red, green, and blue. It uses four AA batteries. The iZ has three different modes: the DJ mode, the play mode, and the Wziz FM mode. This toy also can be connected to MP3 players and ipods and speakers. (Phot is courtesy of Zizzle.) +

Secondary (rechargeable) batteries are growing partly due to the strong growth in the consumers’ use of high drain portable electronic products.  The time to recharge batteries has been reduced and this is  definitely an appealing feature.  Lithium-ion, Lithium-ion polymer and Nickel-metal hydride batteries have the strongest growth rates in rechargeables. These batteries have high performance attributes with prices which are declining for the consumer.  

Portable DVD Player
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People still like to watch DVD in the home but also want to watch DVD in other places such as airplanes, cars, and hotels. Many manufacturers have made this possible with ever increassing screen size and price reductions. This Mustek  PL408HM8-inch (screen size)  player cost about $200 and will play a DVD, CD, Kodak CD, JPEG CD, MPEG4, MP3, CD-R, and CD-RW.  It comes with an AC/DC power adapter/charger and a 12V cigarette lighter adapter and a remote. The remote is powered by 3V Lithium primary battery. It also comes with audio, video, and s-video cables so that the owner can connect to a TV or an amplifier. The DVD player itself has a 3800 mAh Nickel-metal hydride battery pack which provides playback time of 2.7 hours. The charge time is 3.5 hours.  There is no battery state-of-charge indicator, but for a battery module on charge, the indicator LED changes from red to green when charged. The Nickel-metal hydride battery inside the pack is not removable, but a replacement pack is available from for $30.08. (BD Staff photo.) +

Although many devices still use Nickel-metal hydride batteries,  sales are not escalating as fast as those which are based on the rechargeable Lithium technology.  In 2004, U.S. battery demand with  Nickel-metal hydride chemistry was $555 million and is projected to  increase to $790 million by 2009.  Many electronics manufacturers have switched to the Lithium rechargeable chemistries because of their higher energy density and longer runtimes per charge. For instance, cell phones with 3G, having added functionality, need the Lithium-ion chemistry with dedicated power management. Where small size is predominant, the Lithium - based chemistries may be required. Price pressures often dictate the choice of chemistry as demonstrated by the illustrated $200 portable DVD player which used Nickel-metal hydride batttery.  

Universal Remote
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For the affluent consumer who wants a total ‘remotely’ connected home, UEI’s Nevo SL battery-powered remote could wirelessly control digital systems through the entire house.  This system will be able to control an audio system in a cabinet, another stereo system in the bedroom, and a TV and light in the media area from any room in the house.

This is all possible with three components. The first is the user’s remote -the NevoSL; the second is a wireless router - the NevoLink IR Bridge, which receives communication from the user’s remote via a Wi-Fi link. Appropriate control is distributed throughout the house from the bridge to all electronics such as radios, stereos videos, and lights via an Ethernet cable. At the end of the Ethernet cables is UEI’s third component, the IP-addressable Nevolink. This Nevolink sends IR signals to the electric devices by an infrared link.  This is a system which requires customized installation for the electronics to operate properly and thus allow the remote to easily be used.

The remote is equipped with a 1300-mAh Lithium-ion battery, which powers the 5-Volt dc, 600-mA Nevo SL. (Photo is courtesy of UEI.)  +

Lithium-ion chemistries are enjoying the fastest growth rate.  Having U.S. battery demand in 2004 of $1475 million, the figure is forecasted to  almost double by 2009 to $2635 million.  (Data is from “Batteries” by The Freedonia Group, 05/2005.)  Speaking at the 2005 Portable Power Conference & Expo in San Francisco this (2005)  September, Hideo Takeshita, vice president of the Institute of Information Technology in Japan, was very positive about Lithium-ion and Lithium-ion polymer as he discussed the trends.  

iPods nano
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The iPod line has simply run over the competition in the digital music player market. Motorola and Cingular will have the first phones on the market that will include its iTunes software. The iPod nano (upper right) is replacing the iPod mini, which is the most popular iPod model.  The nano  is smaller unit than the mini. The iTunes store is even going to have an audio book version of the Harry Potter novels. Apple Computer’s CEO Steve Jobs said, “My prediction is this [the nano] will instantly become the highest-volume, most popular iPod in the world.”  Since Steve Job’s statement,  Apple has released its newest iPod video, which plays iTunes as well as videos. (upper left) (Photos courteys of Apple.) +
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He said, “It is possible that in ten years, all rechargeable batteries will be Lithium-ion.”  The consumer can anticipate that the odds are that  his/her next electronic portable device with multifunctionality will have a Lithium-ion battery.

Although Apple leads in iPods sales, Samsung Electronics is rolling out six new models in MP3 players this year. In an interview with Reuters on Aug 18, 2005, Park Hyuh-joo in the marketing division at Samsung said, “As the MP3 market grows more than 20% a year, we need to raise production to keep pace with market growth.” +

The Consumer - viewpoints on batteries

Research from Strategy Analytics shows that only about 18% of people spend  time considering the details of battery life when purchasing a new phone.  Most  cell phone users have become accustomed to placing  their cell phone on the charger every evening  so that they can have maximum talk time the next day; it has become a daily routine.  Some day when contactless inductive charging and wireless data connections are discovered, the nightly top off will become even more convenient and reliable for users.

Cell Phones for the younger generation

Two phones that are designed specifically for the younger crowd are the Firefly from Firefly Mobile and the Tic Talk by Enfora.   These phones are designed so that children can keep in contact with people who matter most, especially parents and family Adobe Photoshop Imagemembers.  

With its five keys and its light, sound, colors, and animation, the Firefly is intended for children as young as six. On the front there are two standard green and red phone buttons for initiating and ending calls. The third button brings up the phone book. On the right, there is another button; when it is  pushed down, the 911emergency number  is activated.  There are three buttons on the left, which are for the volume and the backlight. This patented phone lights up like a Firefly when in use and the light display flashes when in standby mode. The Firefly has a non-removable Lithium-ion battery. It is assumed the unit must be returned to an “authorized center” for battery replacement. (Photo is courtesy of Firefly.)

Tic talk
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The gray-and-black phone of the Tic Talk is intended for the pre-teens. The setup is done from a PC on a website. Thirteen numbers can be programmed (preset) and 10 of those numbers can have limited time allowances. Time restrictions can also be setup for restricting the number of hours when these minutes can be used. Parents can also send a to-do-list and calendar items by text messages. Response to text messaging is limited. The child or young teen can only respond by choosing one of four multiple-choice selections since there is no keypad. An unrestricted number will interrupt a lower-priority call so parents can make contact when needed. According to the company, this phone was created because studies show that 9 out of 10 parents wished they had the ability to stay connected to their younger teens, but they worry about huge monthly cellular bills and unwanted callers. As in most of the phones on the market today, a Lithium-ion battery powers the phone. This 850mA Battery is said to have 4 hours of talk time and 7 days of standby time before needing a recharge. (Photo is courtesy of Enfora.) +

Although most consumers (when purchasing  a new phone) ask about the hours of talktime before a recharge is needed, it is less common for them to ask about power management of the battery in the unit they are purchasing or how to best “treat”  the battery in the unit in order to  get maximum utilization.  Brian Barnette, Managing Director of Tiax, LLC. notes that most people have little understanding of the complexity and the volatility issues involved the chemistry  of batteries. It is this lack of user understanding which leads manufacturers to offer products with minimal or no features regarding battery charge-remaining or state-of- health information for the user. To that user, ‘it goes till the end,’ and if the end is during an unanticipated critical moment, the battery, not the lack of an accurate battery charge status gauge, gets the blame.Perhaps a lesson could be learned from the auto industry which equips vehicles with fuel gauges avoiding being stranded without fuel .

Consumers, in general, have little interest in the electrochemical  ‘workings’ in a battery; they just want more power and longer battery life.  In a research study conduced by TNS Technology covering 15 global countries, 14 of the 15 countries’ respondents indicated that ‘two-day battery life’ was on the top of their wish list.   Concern with using up the battery is one of he top reasons why consumers do not use games, music and TV applications on their mobile phone more frequently.  Hanis Harum, Global Director, of TNS Technology comments, “The study shows that there is an appetite among consumers for powerful new applications, particularly those around entertainment media and imaging.  However, the research also indicates that consumers now fully realize that such applications require enhanced battery life and increased memory and they are demanding these improvements as a priority.

According to Stuart Robinson, service director of handset component technologies at Strategy Analytics, Lithium-ion density has improved at the rate of approximately 7% a year; consumers view this increment as being too  “slow” and are awaiting some breakthrough in technology.
Even with double growth in battery energy density, poor product design without battery management will lead the user to a dead battery when he/she has to guess as to how much power is left.    

There are a few developments which should be positive for consumers.
1) Sony and Mtshushita Electric Industrial Co. (manufacturer of Pansonic batteries) are planning to have new Lithium-ion batteries on the market this year.  By tweaking the chemistry, both companies have discussed increasing battery life by perhaps as much as 30 percent.
2) In a longer term goal,  recent work with nanostructures may provide an answer to improved battery life. Nanomarkets believes that the latest developments in nanostructures  and thin films will create considerably improved performance metrics for mobile batteries.  For example, high aspect ratio nanomaterials with small diameters enable the battery to recharge faster.  These new nano-enabled batteries are still too expensive for widespread uses but a change is expected in the next few years as volume sales begin to ramp up.

2) If direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) cartridges ever bloom from prototypes into commercial models, the Lithium-ion battery could be trickle-charged by the DMFC and thus provide longer run times for portables.  Fuel cell manufacturers are anticipating that this new solution to power may be available to consumers as early as 2007. Consumer acceptance of fuel cells in this application  is yet to be determined.

Having “two day battery life” may not be  realistic for this     December holiday wish list in 2005, but perhaps some day it can become a reality. Meanwhile, when the user put the device down at home or in the office, he/she must plug it into the AC adapter, and if it is an important enough device, it is best to carry a spare,a fully charged battery.
(BD note: Batteries Digest  receives no remuneration for listing any of the products and/or the companies  in this article nor does it endorse the products.  Choices of products listed were selected by the staff, based on author’s interest. )                    BD
Heat has always been a problem for fuel cells. There’s usually either too much (ceramic fuel cells) for certain portable uses such as automobiles or electronics, or too little (polymer fuel cells) to be efficient.

While polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells are widely considered the most promising fuel cells for portable use, their low operating temperature and consequent low efficiency have blocked their jump from promising technology to practical technology.

But researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have pinpointed a chemical that could allow PEM fuel cells to operate at a much higher temperature without moisture, potentially meaning that polymer fuel cells could be made much more cheaply than ever before and finally run at temperatures high enough to make them practical for use in cars and small electronics.

A team lead by Dr. Meilin Liu, a professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech, has discovered that a chemical called triazole is significantly more effective than similar chemicals researchers have explored to increase conductivity and reduce moisture dependence in polymer membranes.

“Triazole will greatly reduce many of the problems that have prevented polymer fuel cells from making their way into things like cars, cell phones and laptops,” said Liu. “It’s going to have a dramatic effect.”

A fuel cell essentially produces electricity by converting the chemicals hydrogen and oxygen into water. To do this, the fuel cell needs a proton exchange membrane, a specially treated material that looks a lot like plastic wrap, to conduct protons (positively charged ions) but block electrons. This membrane is the key to building a better fuel cell.

Current PEMs used in fuel cells have several problems that prevent them from wide use. First, their operating temperature is so low that even trace amounts of carbon monoxide in hydrogen fuel will poison the fuel cell’s platinum catalyst. To avoid this contamination, the hydrogen fuel must go through a very expensive purification process that makes fuel cells a pricey alternative to conventional batteries or gasoline-fueled engines. At higher temperatures, like those allowed by a membrane containing triazole, the fuel cell can tolerate much higher levels of carbon monoxide in the hydrogen fuel.

The use of triazole also solves one of the most persistent problems of fuel cells — heat. Ceramic fuel cells currently on the market run at a very high temperature (about 8000 Celsius) and are too hot for most portable applications such as small electronics.

While existing PEM fuel cells can operate at much lower temperatures, they are much less efficient than ceramic fuel cells. Polymer fuel cell membranes must be kept relatively cool so that membranes can retain the moisture they need to conduct protons. To do this, polymer fuel cells were previously forced to operate at temperatures below 1000 C.

Heat must be removed from the fuel cells to keep them cool, and a water balance has to be maintained to ensure the required hydration of the PEMs. This increases the complexity of the fuel cell system and significantly reduces its overall efficiency. But by using triazole-containing PEMs, Liu’s team has been able to increase their PEM fuel cell operating temperatures to above 1200 C., eliminating the need for a water management system and dramatically simplifying the cooling system.

“We’re using the triazole to replace water,” Liu said. “By doing so, we can bring up the temperature significantly.”

Triazole is also a very stable chemical and fosters stable fuel cell operating conditions.

While they have pushed their polymer fuel cells to 1200 C  with triazole, Liu’s team is looking into better polymers to get those temperatures even higher, he said.

For more information contact, Megan McRainey at [email protected].