Blog Post

Lithium Ion Battery Baby Steps: A 3-Year-Warranty Laptop Battery

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

The next-generation of lithium-ion batteries aren’t just here to power the first wave of electric cars and remake the power grid; they’ll be providing better energy storage for our gadgets and computers, too. On Monday, venture capital-backed lithium-ion battery player Leyden Energy (formerly called Mobius Power) is launching a replacement lithium-ion battery for laptops that won’t degrade (start losing its full charge) for at least three years, and will come with a three-year warranty.

Most standard laptop batteries start losing their ability to fully charge (providing fewer and fewer hours of battery life) after about a year and a half. Anyone who’s a laptop user knows how annoying it is to have a battery that suddenly won’t hold a charge for very long, even though it’s still early in the life of the laptop itself. Leyden Energy says its battery has one of the highest energy densities and run times for a lithium-ion laptop battery on the market, with 440 watt hours per liter and over 1,000 cycles, and the battery can operate at higher temperatures than traditional batteries.

Leyden Energy’s three-year warranty battery will cost a premium over a standard one-year battery, and while Leyden Energy hasn’t yet determined the exact price it will sell the battery for, Leyden Energy CEO and President Aakar Patel told me in an interview that a three-year battery will be less than double the cost of a one-year battery. Leyden Energy will also announce a deal Monday to sell its battery through the Canadian battery retailer Dr. Battery, and interested customers will be able to buy the battery online in a couple of weeks through the retailer.

Leyden Energy was founded in 2007 with a patent acquired from chemical giant Dupont (s dd), and a $4.5 million investment from investors at Walden International, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Sigma Partners. Leyden’s secret sauce is an innovation for the electrolyte part of the battery. A battery has a positive and a negative plate and then an electrolyte in between, which is the substance through which electrons transfer back and forth while the battery charges and discharges.

While standard lithium-ion batteries use a salt-based solvent within the electrolyte that starts degrading at a temperature of between 70 to 80 degrees Celsius, Leyden uses a salt-solvent in its electrolyte that doesn’t degrade up to temperatures of 300 degrees Celsius. Leyden Energy holds a patent for this innovation. As Patel explained it to me, when a battery charges and discharges, think of the electrons as rods that move across the electrolyte (between the anode and the cathode) and fill holes on the other side. After a certain point in time, standard electrolytes, particularly at high temperatures, let the rods start to break down and the holes start to fill up, but Leyden’s battery can maintain the integrity of those rods and holes at higher temperatures for a longer period of time.

In the grand scheme of innovations, and with startups trying to change the game with designs for battery-powered cars with hundreds of miles of range, Leyden’s innovation is kind of like baby steps. But if Leyden can manage to get a deal with a major laptop manufacturer to embed the battery directly in a laptop, or market the battery with a popular laptop, then the company could do well. In 2008, Boston Power launched its three-year-lasting lithium-ion battery with laptop maker HP (s HPQ), and is backed by Oak Investment Partners, Venrock, GGV Capital and Gabriel Venture Partners.

Like Boston Power, Leyden Energy has been eying the electric vehicle battery market, too, and is working with Brammo to supply the battery for its electric motorcycle the Empulse, a more powerful version of Brammo’s original e-scooter the Enertia (which I test drove here). Leyden and a vehicle maker partner were also awarded a $2.96 million grant from the California Energy Commission to produce ten electric vehicle batteries per month. Leyden seems like it’s focusing more on batteries for the laptop and consumer electronics markets, instead of electric vehicles, as it seems like the market for electric vehicles is moving slower than some have expected (see A123 Systems (s aone), and Ener1 (s hev)).

8 Responses to “Lithium Ion Battery Baby Steps: A 3-Year-Warranty Laptop Battery”

  1. I admit I was being a bit ironic, but I actually found his responses enlightening and informative. Just a little, uh, verbose? He’s obviously got a lot of experience with this, and, despite his apologizing for his English, he’s pretty awesome at it.

  2. Expand a bit?
    I think my long post should have explained it enough, but since english is not my native language and I’ve never taken any english classes other than those in primary school, I’m not sure I made it clear…

    I’ll try:
    I’m an engineer, Chemical engineer with 30+ yrs. of practice.
    But I also build and fly model airplanes, love to be a “DoItYourself” type of person, with a lot of hobbies and some abilities.
    I have an advanced battery charger for my hobbies (“Triton II”) which allows me to check, charge and maintain up to five different type of batteries and be able to actually measure their capacity and record their performance along their useful life. Therefore, when a couple of friends were ready to throw out their suppossedly “worn” LapTop batteries, I was eager to ask for them, in order to open their cases and try to remove the cells inside them. I was expecting to find one or two bad cells in each LapTop battery, which would explain the LapTops messaging those were requiring more and more frequent recharging. Both users told me that their batteries first started lasting say, a couple of hours of use. Then, after the first year or so of normal use, the LapTop started displaying the “Connect the charger inmediately” message at intervals that were progressively shorter. Within a couple of months, the “Need to recharge” message was signaled after only half an hour of a 100% recharged battery use, then 10 minutes, then 5 or less minutes in a matter of a few weeks. Both users (one with a Dell and the other with a Sony-Vaio) observed similar symptoms. As soon as both of them bought new batteries from their respective computer manufacturers, I was able to grab the used batteries and when I opened them (very risky if done without a good dose of care, because the clamshell halves of both battery cases have small separating wedges that keep the individual cells retained without allowing the interconnecting nickel straps to touch each other and make a huge short circuit, which has the potential to overheat the cells and start a fire!). I noticed the cell interconnection straps to be uninsulated and the extreme proximity between them in both manufacturers designs pointed to what a trained engineer would think as a “marginal” design from a safety stanpoint; or probably made on purpose, maybe to discourage disassembly by novices. Anyway, I could appreciate that in some places in both battery designs, a fall on the floor, a sharp blow or strong force could easily bring into contact the positive and negative straps producing an instantaneous short circuit, and possibly a fire.
    But carefully separating the shell halves and keeping the straps in their place, it was possible to have access to each and every cell in the pack. Almost all of the LapTop batteries I’ve seen use the same type of cylindrical Lithium Ion cell: the 18650 which measures 18 by 65 millimeters and has from 2000 to 3000 mAh of nominal capacity.
    As I said, I was astonished to find that ALL of the cells in BOTH pack were above 3.9 or 4 volts… and an accidental brief short circuit I made when opening the second pack confirmed the voltage AND the charge level was there with a strong spark and its sharp noise!

    SO, Why were BOTH LapTops signaling that their batteries were needing recharging, but the ALL the cells inside both pack were NOT EVEN half discharged???

    This puzzled me my friends. I removed the cells and used them to repower and old cordless drill which NiCad and NiMH batteries were long gone, and found that the LI-Ion cells were performing perfectly in acordance with their ratings. As time passed, after a year or so, the cells were measured with the “cycling” option of my batt charger, so that I had a good set of data on the 9 and 8 cells from the two batteries (Dell and Sony). Today, more than three years from disassembly, the cells still measure more than 85% of my initially measured capacity and 90% of the rated capacity stamped on the cell.
    The Japanese made Sony’s are a hair better than the Chinese ones made for Dell, but the difference is quite small.
    After several more batteries removed from other Laptops (HP, Toshiba and a different model Dell), ALL of the cells from the “worn” batteries show great health and a narrow window of voltages and capacities. Al of them are used to repower my cordless tools, a Model Airplane Engine starter, and a Do-It-Yourself home made high fidelity headphome amplifier, which keeps the battery charged and topped of all time except when listening to music at late night.
    Now, the number of integrated circuits present on the two or even three long and narrow circuit boards on the inside of the LapTop batteries is not concordant with the tasks of performing the State of Charge, balancing and monitoring. And being all too easy for the designers of the battery to write an algorithm based on first use date, or calendar days passed since first use, or number of operating hours, or number of recharging cycles to signal off the LapTop display to show the “Need to plug in the charger” message, at ever diminishing intervals; all points to a disguised fraud (for a lack of other name), in order to keep the pockets of the computer manufacturers full of extra money from the tricked consumer believing their batteries “must have been going bad” from the multiple messages appearing on their LCD screens. Very few “aftermarket” or “generic” batteries are available from vendors other than the original LapTop manufacturer. The Wildly variying battery configurations, shapes, terminal blocks, sizes and shell attachment to the LapTop, precludes any standarization, so that the LapTop owner is married to the mnanufacturer for a replacement battery for life, or else, throw away the complete LapTop after a couple of years… So much for any conservation of resources, and an electronic garbage free world!
    Another example of the complete disregard and lack of respect the large manufacturers have towards the consumer, is the recent Class action of a group of consumers agains Panasonic, for the programmed loss of contrast and deep black level dropping of their Plasma displays on their “Viera” line. It seems that Panasonic designers wrote the “firmware” to REDUCE the contrast bringing up the deep black level of the TV’s display after some hundreds of operating hours; so that the initially awesome image quality that allegedly made the Panasonic plasmas the best available in the world after the dissappearance of the Kuro by Pionner brand, simply vanished from one day to the following. Some TV reviewers on CNET noticed the contrast dropping suddenly and the marvelous deep blacks evaporating; some discerning and knowledgeable TV owners also noticed it. Panasonic denied any degradation and said the TV’s were working “as designed”… then the class action suite came and is still in the courts. should Panasonic care and have a bit of respect for their customers, the best way to solve the matter would have been to accept they goofed it, that the programmed contrast cut was too abrupt, and should have offered a Firmware fix to allow the TV owners to reset the original image appearance, even if it meant a reduced lifespan for the plasma display or else, which most (or all) of the discerning customers would have preferred obviously! But as Toyota denying any problem with their stuck accelerator pedal problem, the enormous petulance and lack of respect for their customers of today large manufacturers, they are simply NOT interested in the long term satisfaction of their customers, and won’t accept their product is flawed. Some times it is called “planned obsolescence”, I call it Fraud. (Pardon my limited command of the english language). CONCLUSION: It is very easy to manipulate a device behavior through firmware instructions in order to make it do whatever the designer wants; planned obsolescense or else, the consummer can conterattack by not recommending the product, or informing unsuspecting people, so that the offending brand loses sales. It has been seen many times lately that large companies tend to take their custommers lightly, so let’s show them we the users can be informed and discerning, and that they risk reducing their earnings (the only thing it appears they really care) if their behavior is not modified properly.

  3. It is really NO big deal to produce a 3 year life Li-Ion battery: that is more or less the life expectancy of common Li-Ion cells when they are correctly used and properly maintained. So, is that new “3 year” battery really an improvement, or is an upgrade just because the original battery is a (disguised) fraud?
    Let me explain:
    I’ve opened many suppossedly “worn out” LapTop batteries that kept signaling the LapTop user to “inmediately connect the charger or…” at briefer and briefer intervals after a year or so of starting using the LapTop… BUT I’ve found that ALL of the 18650 type Li-Ion cells that were inside the battery packs were still in almost perfect condition, measuring more than 85 or 90% of their rated capacity! This means a thing: the LapTop-Battery system is simply LYING to the user when it shows that the battery is “almost empty” and the user has to connect the charger inmediately! That is one of the purposes of the circuit boards with several IC’s on them, apart from monitoring and balacing the individual cell recharge levels and informing the LapTop about which battery is installed inside.
    This means that Laptop producers purposely equip their batteries with on-purpose circuits that start signaling the computer user that the battery is empty when it is not. The user believes his battery is starting to lose some capacity, and then the messages are displayed more and more frequently, so that the user becomes convinced that the battery was already “starting to fail” and is driven to make the decision to purchase another battery, which, thanks to the industry on-purpose lack of standarization, needs to be purchased exactly from the same maker of the computer, which engrosses its earnings by selling the replacement batteries at an inflated price, far above their cost plus any reasonable earnings. The tricked consumer then returns the “worn out” battery in order to “help the planet” and recycles it, in some cases the cells are only to be repackaged after testing and discarding the few cells that really went bad, which are a minor quantity compared with those perfectly good ones. The Portable computer industry doesn’t care if the buyer has to expend more than $50 or $100 dollars every two years or less, and there are small businesses dedicated to “revive” or rebuild used laptop batteries, for a price. The LapTop manufacturer has to disqualify those small shops, scaring the customer with exaggerated claims about the “reduced” safety or “rebuilt” packs, and many users simply do not know why their batteries lasted so little. (The rated life of most of the 18650 cells used in most LapTop batteries is over 1,000 cycles, or more if the battery is NOT used in full capacity discharges, which is often the case).

    If Miss/Ms. Fehrenbacher dares to investigate and expose this practice, I invite her to go to a independent qualified technician and ask him/her to carefully open several supossedly “bad” Laptop batteries, I’m certain he/she will be totally surprised to find that MOST or all of the cells inside those battery packs are almost as good as new, and perfectly able to continue functioning happily and safely for another couple of years. I’m in possession of at least four or five dozen 18250 size cells retired from several batteries from Dell, HP, Sony and Toshiba LapTops that are now working hard inside my several cordless tools, which place a heavier demand on those cells. A dedicated intelligent type LiIon battery recharger, like those used by electric powered model airplane fliers can easily and accurately measure the true remaining capacity of the cells, and keep track of their true degradation through time and use. The LapTop industry has abused its consumers for a long time. By simply by writing the information and instructions inside the chips of the batteries as “Firmware”, it is all too easy to write an algorithm into the firmware embedded inside the “Battery Management and Protection System” inside the LapTop battery case, in order to convince the user the battery is going “old” and promote a planned battery renewal, quite before the cells really become too degraded.
    The true lifespan of a LapTop battery could be extended (or more properly: fully utilized) if the user could “reset” or reprogram the counter or erase the number of cycles or operating hours, or date of first use (or all them) of its battery, in order to continue to use the battery without the fake messages appearing and the LapTop menacing to shut down.
    As a side note, the “explanation” given to you as “rods and holes” is flawed. A simple Wikipedia search will return a true description of the real LiIon battery function and degradation. While it is true that improvements on the electrolyte and electrodes can make a difference, the explanation given to you is simply not valid. Appears more like a tale from a salesman than an engineer or knowledgeable technician. As far as I can see, a battery manufacturer (or more simply, a battery PACK assembler) could develop a way to “reprogram” the firmware of a LapTop battery in order to “cheat” the LapTop to make it use all of the real capacity of the pack, or make a new Battery Management System (“BMS”) that fools the LapTop; and sell it as a “much improved battery”. It could be done. Food for Thought, anyway. Respectfully, amclaussen.