Panasonic is set to bring us better notebook batteries

You can never have too much power

PANASONIC MIGHT NOT be best known for its battery technology, but the company has been doing rechargeables that go into notebooks for many years, not to mention a wide range of other electronics. It now seems like Panasonic is getting ready to give us all a nice power boost for our notebooks as the company has come up with a new improved Li-Ion cell that can store more power. This means either smaller batteries or longer battery life, both of which are potentially good things.

So let’s start with the bad news. The first step will be a 3.4Ah battery that should arrive in 2011, while the near double capacity 4Ah batteries won’t appear until 2012 at the earliest. When it comes to notebook battery life, these products can’t come soon enough, since just about everyone who owns a notebook knows what it’s like to run out of power when you really need to use your computer.

Panasonic is working on changing the cathode in the batteries and the new models are using an advanced nickel based cathode. Panasonic’s best batteries using this technology today can deliver 2.9Ah, although we should be seeing models with 3.1Ah coming out next year. However, to reach the 4Ah target for 2012, Panasonic is developing a silicon alloy for the cathode. The only downside of the 4Ah batteries is that the voltage drops slightly from about 3.6V, which is the norm today, to 3.4V.

Another issue is that as the energy density increases, so does the weight. The new Li-Ion cells will weigh about 54g each, compared to 44g for the current 2.9Ah Li-Ion cells from Panasonic. However, a 4-cell battery using the new 4Ah cells would offer a battery capacity of 5440mAh which is close to that of most 6-cell batteries today. This means a lower total weight while retaining the same capacity, or if you get a 6-cell battery based on the 4Ah cells, you’d end up with an 8160mAh battery. This would indeed be slightly heavier, but 60g really isn’t that much to the overall weight of a notebook if you can get 12-hour battery life.

 We’re still hoping for fuel cells to become mainstream as that really seems like the way forward rather than improved battery technology for notebooks. Still, we take what we can have and better notebook batteries can’t come too soon in our book, as we’re sick of running out of power when we’re jetting around the world to attend press conferences and trade shows. So Panasonic, please hurry up and get this technology done a bit sooner.S|A

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