Better Batteries May Spark New Consumer Devices, Cars


QDOTS imagesCAKXSY1K 8BASF (BASFY), Toyota  (TM) and IBM  (IBM) are among companies placing sizable  early bets on next-generation batteries that could better power things big or  small, such as electric cars or maybe wristwatch computers, according to Lux  Research analyst Cosmin Laslau. But not for a while.

First the new batteries might get a real-world test powering unmanned aerial  vehicles — drones and microvehicles — for the military, he says, as it’s a case  where the customer might be willing to pay double for a 10% improvement in power  for the weight. Several new technologies could deliver up to 10 times more  energy than today’s batteries, Lux Research says in a new report.

The current Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery market is worth north of $10  billion, Laslau says. But for now applications are limited at the small end by  how much power output the batteries have for their size — think of how much  space the battery of an Apple (AAPL)  iPhone takes up. On the big end of applications are electric cars, where the  cost of a large-enough battery to provide a useful number of miles in driving  range is a limiting factor. Size is an issue there, too.

“When you get to large size like say a Tesla (TSLA)  electric vehicle, in order to get the range people want … it might cost  $30,000 for the battery alone,” Laslau said.

The report, “Beyond Lithium-Ion: A Roadmap for Next-Generation Batteries,”  that Laslau put together with two contributors sees military users as the entry  point for next-gen batteries around 2020 and consumer electronics adopting new  solid-state batteries by 2030, but it’s a hard sell for next-gen batteries in  transportation to unseat Li-ion batteries. Meanwhile, research and other kinds  of gains are expected to continue improving those and push down costs.

The next-gen battery types that could be Li-ion alternatives go by names such as Lithium-air, Lithium-sulfur, Solid-state (ceramic or polymer) and Zinc-air. They have different safety and power profiles, with solid-state having a safety edge. Several startups, such as PolyPlus, Sion Power and Oxis Energy, are working on next-gen types, and Laslau says one hard part is translating them from prototype to production. BASF has put $50 million into Sion, he adds.

The report notes that giants such as IBM, Bosch, Toyota and BMW are active in  battery research — and the last two recently partnered on it.

Some government-backed battery startups “have failed spectacularly,” Laslau  said, with A123 Systems the prime example.

“Now the U.S. has changed tack and put $120 million into Argonne National  Lab’s JCESR, the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research,” he said. It will  focus on fundamental R&D rather than making bets on startups.

“We think this is a very promising development,” Laslau said, noting that the  lab is also partnering “with really well-established companies like Johnson  Controls (JCI) that have the expertise to  mass-produce any prototypes.” Other partners include Dow  Chemical (DOW) and Applied  Materials (AMAT).

Read More At Investor’s Business Daily: http://news.investors.com/technology/032013-648660-next-generation-batteries-might-power-smartwatches-electric-cars.htm#ixzz2QpxswlBF Follow us: @IBDinvestors on Twitter | InvestorsBusinessDaily on Facebook

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