Batteries/Business/Holiday Gifts page 051102
Batteries Will Power A Wide Assortment of Interesting and Unique Holiday Gifts
by Tim Georgi
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.
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.)
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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].