Apple Unveils Efficient MacBook Battery, Who's the Supplier?

macbook-proUnveiled this morning at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, the new 17-inch MacBook Pro is part of what Apple (s APPL) is calling “the world’s greenest family of notebooks.” Is it just a ploy to keep Greenpeace’s Green My Apple groupies off its back? Not completely. This actually looks like a significant step toward more efficient computing with fewer hazardous chemicals.

Less than an inch thick, the new 17-incher has a built-in battery — making the energy-storage design more like the MacBook Air, iPods and iPhone than that of the smaller MacBook Pros. Apple announced today that the new lithium-polymer battery will run for up to eight hours on a single charge. The company says it will retain at least 80 percent of that capacity for up to 1,000 recharge cycles, compared with only 300 recharges for the 13- and 15-inch models’ removable lithium-ion batteries. That longer life comes in part from an adaptive charging mechanism — an embedded chip that monitors charge level, temperature, and helps manage the charging current. Like the other MacBooks, the new Pro has a recyclable aluminum body and contains no brominated flame retardants.

So, who will supply this super battery? There was a rumor that silver-zinc battery startup ZPower had nabbed the deal. But, unfortunately for ZPower, Apple has decided to go with lithium-polymer batteries; ZPower confirmed with us today that it is not working on this type of battery.

Other possibilities could be a major manufacturers, like Toshiba, which has been increasing its efforts for cutting edge lithium ion battery technology. Sanyo and Panasonic are joining up to become a lithium-ion battery powerhouse, as well.

If it is a startup, the deal is a major win for a small firm. Boston Power makes a next-gen lithium-ion battery and signed a deal with HP last month. Like the battery promised for the new MacBook Pro, Boston Power’s “Sonata” batteries are said to operate at 80 percent capacity for at least three years. But Boston’s battery runs closer to four hours per charge, so the design would have to be tweaked considerably. Startup Actacell is working on next-generation lithium-ion technology, and it’s backed by several venture firms and But, so far, Actacell has focused on high-power batteries for electric vehicles. Startup Mobius Power is also working on lithium-ion batteries that it says can be used for notebooks.

Apple’s wording about its battery technology largely credits Apple engineers with improving the battery technology, so it’s possible that Apple did a lot of the work in-house. Or perhaps the company is just blanketing the Apple brand over another company’s innovation.