Batteries/Cellular/Fuel Cells Tomorrow060311
Cell Phones Drive Portable Power -
Fuel Cells Tomorrow (?)
by Shirley Georgi
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2006, cell phones were commanding the crown for wireless communication. In fact, as Steve Koenig, CEA’s (Consumer Electronics Association’s) senior manager of industry analysis, noted, “Wireless handsets account for 11 percent of the $123 billion in total CE (Consumer Electronics) industry shipment revenues expected this year.”
Plunkett Research, Ltd. has stated that the cell phone is the fastest-growing consumer electronic in the world. Globally, 700 million cell phones were forecasted to be sold in 2005. A larger number of camera-equipped cell phones are sold each year than stand alone digital cameras. More MP3 player equipped cell phones are also sold than the single-function MP3 players.
China is benefiting from this trend and is the leading manufacturer of electronic high-tech products, including cell phones. In January 2006, the Ministry of Commerce in China touted the fact that China exported cell phones and cell phone parts worth US$2.9 billion; this figure accounted for 16.5 percent of the total export volume of high-tech products.
Americans have become cell phone dependent. According to CTIA research, from January - June of 2004, wireless consumers talked on their phones 500 billion minutes. By the end of 2004, consumers used 1.1 trillion minutes of talk time. With new features being added, including music, video and Internet, this number is on a path for an even higher growth rate.
Growth - In the U.S.
CEA research states that nearly one in five recent wireless purchasers have no landline phone. In a 90 day study from early September to early December 2005 , a full 17 percent of consumers who purchased wireless phones reported using their wireless phones exclusively. According to the Yankee Group, as reported in Business Week, p.18 on 10/03/05, 6.2 million U.S. households are expected “to cut the cord on their telephone land lines this year and become completely wireless.”
Glenn Lurie, Cingular’s president of national distribution, is optimistic about the growth of cellular in the U.S. There is still significant growth available in the wireless industry, as the U.S. is less than 65 penetrated with wireless users”.
CEA Research notes cell phones are present in 73 percent of households, and many are updating to new phones to get more features. In reviewing consumer purchases of wireless phones, CEA Research found that 56 percent of consumers having cell phones purchased their phones less than one year ago. Features such as a camera are popular, in fact, Informa Telecoms and Media has estimated that 77 percent of mobile handsets will be camera phones by 2010.
Examples of the latest phones with multifeatures/multitasking are Samsung’s i730 and Motorola’s Magneta RAZR, which were the 2006 CES winners in the “Technology is a girl’s best friend 2005 Diamond Product Showcase.”
Motorola’s ROKR phone has Apple’s iTune music player software. This tri-band GSM phone features built-in stereo speakers with surround sound, a VGA camera with flash, Bluetooth, micro SD (TransFlash) memory card slot, speakerphone and an airplane mode.
The Asian market is booming. China Statistics reports that China’s domestic mobile phone battery market was expected to reach 570 million units in 2005, compared to 450 million in 2003. The rechargeable battery market is growing; currently it is valued at $500 million and growing 20 percent annually. This increase is being “pushed” by increased sales of cell phones. The Chinese Digital Communications Group (OTCBB:CHID) stated in September 2005, “Not only are more Chinese consumers buying mobile phones, but current users are constantly upgrading their equipment as rapid advances in technology bring about new cell phones which are eagerly accepted into the marketplace.”
Companies are tailoring phones and services specifically for the Chinese market. To provide wireless phones for the less affluent consumers in China, both Motorola and Nokia are selling phones in the $30 to $40 price range.
There is also a trend toward better design in China for the Chinese users’ cell phones, not just copied models from abroad. For example, Lenovo has designed a special phone just for the more affluent consumers in China. The phone not only has a camera and an MP3 player but it also has a perfume aroma. When the battery “heats up,” the user enjoys sweet smells throughout the room.
In David Rock’s “China Design” article in Business Week (11/21/05), he said that Chinese design is taking off and going native. “Foreign companies are realizing that Chinese consumer tastes differ from those in L.A. London, or Tokyo. So ... Motorola, Nokia and others have designers in China.”
China is definitely the world’s most dynamic consumer market. According to information from the 2005 China Mobile Telecommunications Terminal Development Forum, there were 25.7 mobile phones for every 100 Chinese by the end of 2004. Subscribers are are also looking for phones with increased functionality and features (i.e., MP3, video and games). The China Center for Information Industry Development notes that 60 percent of mobile subscribers are in the market for a new cell phone; in fact, 24.4 percent buy one every 12 to 24 months.
In other countries
India is expected to be the fastest growing market during this period with a 32.8 percent compound annual growth rate in subscribers.
Gartner states that the mobile phone sales in Eastern Europe, Africa and Middle East grew 37 percent, with mobile phone sales rising to 33.6 million units in the second quarter of 2005.
In Russia, there is a 60 percent penetration by mobile phones, according to Romir Monitoring - a Russian national opinion research center. Siberia has the highest proportion of users with 66 percent market penetration.
The Power Challenge
Features on the cell phone are continuing to expand. The “all encompassing phone” plays music, shows television clips and videos, swipes credit cards, scans product labels, works as a debit card, provides locations on a map, wires money to bank accounts, and sends video / voice mail as well as text messaging. And as WiFi expands in 2006, cell phones are being created to function in a “dual mode’ so that they can work on either cellular or WiFi networks. With these phones becoming an “end all” for communication, the battery or other power source needs to be as robust as possible.
The king of the current state-of-the-art technology for powering portables is the Lithium-ion battery. By tweaking the chemistry of the anode, cathode and electrolyte, researchers have been able to make small improvements in energy density for portable power over the last ten years. As Ric Fulop, co-founder of A123 Systems. states, “Lithium-ion has been improving at a rate of about 9 percent a year since a decade ago when Sony introduced the first battery based on this technology.” Currently, A123 Systems has a new improved Lithium-ion battery based on nano-phosphate chemistry for high-current devices needed by power tools, and the company is considering possible opportunities to adapt their technology for portable electronics.
Lithium-ion batteries are keeping our wireless devices powered, but the chemistry itself has some “drawbacks.” Jim Balcom, president and CEO of Polyfuel, comments on this issue. “Lithium-ion batteries don’t do very well from a durability aspect. Most tend to decline to the point where, after a year or two, the energy capacity drops to about 80 percent of the original level and thereafter falls quite steeply.”
The bottom line is that the consumer world is not satisfied with the progress in the electrochemistry of batteries and has unrealsitic expectations that battery advances should keep pace with advances in electronic chips .
Since the laws of nature which govern battery development can not be changed, the battery community has looked for additional solutions.
One solution is to reduce the recharging time so that battery recharging is almost a transparent operation. Toshiba has successfully developed a battery which can reach 80 percent of its capacity in one minute. This new battery, using nanoparticles, is expected to be launched in 2006.
Many companies are looking toward fuel cells as the answer.
Fuel cells -
Recently, Polyfuel, Inc., which manufacturers hydrocarbon-based membranes for fuel cells, produced a press release entitled “CES Post Mortem: Here Comes the ‘Run-Time Gap’; New Video and Mobile Applications Will Use More Power Than is Available in Current Battery Technology.” Polyfuel’s CEO Jim Balcom is confident that fuel cells are the answer for extreme “power hungry” applications in wireless data communications. He reported that a consumer’s daily mobile power requirement in 2007 will be at least four times what the best-available batteries can deliver today, and 2-1/2 times greater than experts believe batteries will ever deliver. “As a mature technology, batteries are essentially tapped out.” Although not explicitly stated by Mr. Balcom, the implication is that “fuel cells are the new winner!”
There are a plethora of companies looking to fuel cells as the answer to portable power. A sampling is as follows:
Medis Technologies is hoping to be the first to commercialize a fuel cell cartridge which could recharge a cell phone. Since their chemistry is Alkaline-based, there is no chemical volatility issue with taking the cartridge on an airplane . Medis units should begin to be available this fall , Sept. 2006. (See “Medis Presents its Micro Fuel Cell as “ready-to-go” for the Retail Market at the Consumer Electronics Show” in the January issue of Batteries Digest found on the web at www.batteriesdigest.com)
Samsung SCI announced at the end of January 2006 that the company has developed a methyl alcohol-operated fuel cell which is said to have double the lifetime of other cell phone batteries. The Korea Times reported that this fuel cell could extend talk time on a cell phone to eight hours. Mass marketing of the fuel cell and replacement cartridges are not scheduled to begin until the later half of 2007.
NTT DoCo Mo and KDDI of Japan hope to have fuel cell rechargers for wireless phones available to consumers in another year or two.
NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone) is developing a hydrogen-fueled PEFC (polymer electrolyte fuel cell) which could replace Lithium-ion batteries in mobile phones. The goal is to provide a 3G (third-generation) phone having 2.5 Watts of power with 9 hours of talk time. Currently, the prototypes are too large and it may take two years before the PEFC can be made small enough to fit into the phone.
Lilliputian is also working on fuel cells for wireless applications. The company is utilizing MEMS based technology developed by founders at the Microsystems Technology Laboratories at MIT.
Matsushita Battery Industrial provided information at CES on their progress in developing a new fuel supply method for direct methanol fuel cells that makes is possible to reduce the size of the fuel cell to one half of the current industry level. Matsushita Battery believes fuel cells are a promising candidate for the next-generation power supply for portable/wireless electronics . Matsushita Battery has been working to develop a micro fuel cell solution since the late 1980s to fill these market needs.
To date, prototypes, in-the-lab-models and pre-commercial fuel cell units seem to dominate the scene. Perhaps CES 2007 (or maybe CES 2008) will be the year when fuel cells become one of the hot topics as these new power devices become commercialized . The wireless world is anxiously waiting their arrival.