Talk is cheap (and I don't blame it on the phone company) when it comes to futuristic battery technologies like silver-zinc. It's another issue, however, when they announce that the technology is going to be practical in a few months. Indeed, startup ZPower says it has this rechargeable technology ready to go right now for portable devices. Well, it's going to be in a major laptop or similar device by mid-year. Intel is a part-owner in this latest venture capitalist enterprise, so that can't hurt. With a big gun like that in the mix, some optimists among us might even say the claims for the battery are a near certainty.
ZPower says it has taken a half-century old battery chemistry that's been around for military applications (such as the Apollo project), made it rechargeable, and made it much better for use in next generation portables than lithium-ion is now. By how much? Forty percent improvement in watt-hours per liter, and ten percent better in watt-hours per kilogram, according to Ross Dueber, president and CEO. Overall, about a threefold improvement in what lithium-ion can do. The first product, in a 10-by-35-by-50 mm case, will be rated at 5.8 A-h. "It's a paradigm shift," says Dueber.
Is it? The claims continue: lighter, smaller, safer, several hundred cycling times, and longer running. One thing ZPower doesn't do is tout this new 1.5-volt technology as a direct replacement for existing portables running on 3.6-volt sources. On the other hand, the battery, which reportedly has a "water-based" alkaline electrolyte similar to what's in NiCd and NiMH types, will have every opportunity to double and otherwise multiply its capabilities in the same time frame as did lithium-ion when it came on the scene in the early 1990s, says Dueber. That would be quite a trick, considering that this first-generation product for portables starts out with such an apparent edge to begin with.
What about the cost? Oh, it's going to cost you.....a premium price, no doubt, no breaks there. "Total cost of ownership" is yet a foggy issue. And initially at least, the battery will be available only from the manufacturer of the portable device. In any case, here it comes....A watershed for battery technology? We'll find out first this summer, and know all we need to know in about two years.