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Spotlight falls on batteries as laptop needs increase

The viability of lithium ion batteries is under scrutiny, with three major suppliers - Apple, Dell and Toshiba - recalling batteries used in tens of thousands of laptops, and three airlines issuing restrictions on their use on aircraft.

At the same time, environmental organisation Greenpeace has warned of hazardous substances contained in laptop batteries. And questions remain over what suppliers are doing to develop alternatives to current power technologies.

Mark Blowers, senior analyst for IT infrastructure at Butler Group, said, "Battery technology has not kept pace as we have become more power hungry. Other than moving from nickel cadmium to lithium ion, batteries have not really kept pace.Battery technology is not up to the job."

He added that, as mobile devices become increasingly become desktop replacements with high-end features, such as large colour screens, powerful hard drives and wireless technology, they draw more power.

One way processor manufacturers AMD and Intel are tackling power demands in laptops is through technologies that can extend battery life. AMD's Powernow and Intel's Dynamic Power Co-­ordination systems both have power saving features.

Intel's Speedstep and AMD's Powernow are designed to increase power as and when it is required, and reduce power at other times, enabling the laptop to run more efficiently and so conserve battery power.

Going forward, fuel cell battery technology promises to boost laptop battery life. Due to arrive in the next few years, fuel cell batteries work by converting chemical energy into electricity. Fuel cell by-products oxygen and water are recycled back into the cell, increasing efficiency and making batteries more environmentally friendly.

Early tests have shown that fuel cells can power a notebook for five hours, but the batteries are not yet sufficiently portable.

From January 2007, the International Civil Aviation Organisation will allow fuel cells to be carried on board commercial aircraft.

Another technology that could reduce battery drainage is screen technology based on organic light emitting diodes. This approach could cut power consumption and provide brighter screens for portable devices, but is still at least two years away, said analysts.





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