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Panasonic's lithium ion battery cells
Panasonic speaks on its latest developments in laptop batteries

Following the Sony laptop battery fiasco of 2006, intense interest has been paid to the safety of the portable energy source. The IEEE is in the process of updating its standards for laptop batteries, and some companies are developing their own improved cells. One such company is Matsushita, best known for its Panasonic brand in North America, who makes lithium-ion batteries for notebooks.

DailyTech spoke with Michael Buckner, Senior Manager for Panasonic's Energy Solutions Lab, about the electronic company’s role and future in batteries. While Sony was the goat in last year’s laptop battery, Matsushita had a very small Japan-only recall of its own. Despite the fact that Sony was the one stumbling in its lithium ion products, the entire consumer public began to worry about the safety of all laptop batteries.

“When any supplier has a problem, it creates concern for the technology itself. The challenge that we must meet is to reassure the public that Lithium-ion batteries are safe,” said Buckner. “Safety has always been the number one priority at Panasonic. The incidents last year just reconfirmed that we need to maintain safety first in our designs.”

Last November, the IEEE announced that it would revise its laptop battery standard to improve safety guidelines. The IEEE has named Panasonic as one of the interested participants in the formation of a new standard, but Panasonic did not comment on its specific involvement with the IEEE. Buckner did have this to say about the upcoming standard: “While nothing has been approved yet, we feel it best that any proposals set safety levels but not mandate the methods for manufacturing the cells, which could increase the costs significantly.”

Panasonic has already made developments in improving laptop battery safety, independent of the IEEE. Parent company Matsushita announced in December that it has established a mass-production system for a 2.9 Ah lithium-ion battery that incorporates heat resistance layer technologies to ensure safety. We asked Buckner if these new batteries were now available to North American consumers. “Yes, the 2.9Ah lithium-ion batteries are our second generation batteries and are shipping in the latest generation of Panasonic Toughbooks,” he replied. “Several other manufacturers are also designing notebooks for these cells and you should see these coming to the market this year.”

In addition to improving safety, Matsushita has also developed lithium ion batteries that boast 20 to 40 percent greater capacity while retaining the heat resistance safety layer. The prototype battery uses metal alloys for its negative diode instead of the graphite carbon that is typically used. Thanks to the alloy material, the maximum capacity for a standard 18650 size battery increases from 2.9 Ah to 3.6 Ah. Energy density/volume is also increased by 40 percent over Panasonic's current batteries, to 740 Wh/L.

“This is our third generation battery with a capacity of 3.6Ah,” said Buckner, who continued to explain what this means to consumers. “It would allow for a 10 hour battery pack that is the same size as a first generation 6 hour battery pack. By optimizing the composition and developing new process methods, Panasonic has overcome the technical difficulties in using an alloy for an electrode.”

These high-tech batteries aren’t on the market yet, but we were told that the third generation technology would be commercialized in the “near future.”

Looking forward, electronics companies are exploring different options on where next to take mobile power. Sony Electronics President Stan Glasgow has gone on record to predict that notebook makers will likely soon incorporate lithium polymer battery technology instead of the currently used lithium ion.

Panasonic, however, feels that there is still much life left in lithium ion technology. “Li-ion cells have the highest capacity of any present battery technology,” said Buckner, adding that Panasonic is focused on improving lithium ion batteries to meet the demand for longer running portable devices while adapting new safety technologies in the interest of consumer safety.

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Don't you just hate...
By bottle23 on 2/15/2007 6:21:38 PM , Rating: 5
When companies announce all this new technology and improvements in existing stuff, but you never hear from it again?

Its not reassuring when they don't know when such things will end up in the hands of the consumer. :(

RE: Don't you just hate...
By Oregonian2 on 2/16/2007 4:31:32 PM , Rating: 2
You don't hear about it again because it then is "old news" and the press/media doesn't really write article on old stuff too much.

RE: Don't you just hate...
By stmok on 2/16/2007 10:20:20 PM , Rating: 3
Trivial nonsense.

They announce something new and improved. Then you never hear from them again! The company either disappears or the project gets cancelled or shelved.

Example: Liquid Metal Cooling.

Sapphire was supposed to incorporate it in a video card to demo as a commercial application for this cooling method.

Where is it now?

It silently dissappeared. Never to be seen again! Even Sapphire pulled off the info for it! Do you see any current computer cooling products based on the this technology?

What about the new high capacity optical media that utterly shits on both HD-DVD and Blu-ray? Where are they now?

At best, press releases like these should be taken with a grain of salt. (Only to appease shareholders and investors). Just because such technology exists, doesn't mean it will end up in consumer hands.

As been said, when they don't announce a release date, don't hold your breath.

RE: Don't you just hate...
By qualme on 2/21/2007 10:38:27 AM , Rating: 2
holographic storage released (and compared to similar tape configurations its actually cheaper)

By thebrown13 on 2/15/2007 6:18:34 PM , Rating: 2
"While nothing has been approved yet, we feel it best that any proposals set safety levels but not mandate the methods for manufacturing the cells, which could increase the costs significantly.”

That's market-speak for "We'll make it as safe as we can without us having to spend money."

RE: Ok
By Oregonian2 on 2/15/2007 7:40:43 PM , Rating: 2
Also translating to the customer not having to pay that additional cost in addition to them being allowed to use their proprietary advanced patented construction methods rather than being required to use older IEEE proscribed technology.

RE: Ok
By masher2 on 2/15/07, Rating: 0
RE: Ok
By alifbaa on 2/16/2007 10:32:19 AM , Rating: 3
It's not the government regulating anything, it's the IEEE. The IEEE is an industry standard maker. Following industry standards improves interoperability amongst products and reduces liability in the case of safety problems. The result is that companies like Sony or Matsushita can make batteries that go into hundreds of different laptops once they are covered with a unique shell to fit into each laptop's individual shape. It reduces costs, not increases them. It increases safety and reliability by creating an industry standard for manufacturers to strive to. It may not be the best solution when looked at from one performance aspect, but it's not designed to be the best at everything. These standards are meant as compromises between manufacturers, and are completely non-binding.

RE: Ok
By masher2 on 2/18/2007 3:54:21 PM , Rating: 2
You're right; I should have read more carefully.

Polymer based electronics
By Micronite on 2/15/2007 6:19:16 PM , Rating: 2
It's interesting to see polymers getting roped into electronics more and more.
As Sony mentions... lithium-polymer batteries may replace lithium-ion batteries.
OLED (also polymer-based) is supposed to replace LCD/Plasma
Polymer-based electronics are supposed to take off since manufacturing can be done with inkjet process.

Ahhh, I love the smell of new technology.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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