Inside the next generation of smartphone and tablet batteries

Leyden Energy Li imide pouch batteryYou may not be familiar with Leyden Energy. It’s a company which is developing new battery technology, and batteries aren’t quite as – for want of a better word – sexy as other hardware components such as processors. For now, at least. But battery power is rising up the chain, as researchers the world over amp up their quest for drastically improved power cells not only for our smartphones and tablets, but for hybrid and electric cars, too. Leyden Energy has developed an interesting new battery technology named Li-imide, an evolution of the Lithium-ion batteries currently powering our gadgets, which could go on to bring more energy to next generation gadgets.

Battery technology is struggling to keep up with the advances in hardware, but Leyden Energy’s VP of Marketing, Noam Kedem believes the decision to use bigger capacity batteries to compensate is the wrong one, because it makes it more difficult to produce thinner and lighter products. To illustrate his point, Kedem references how unusual it was for Apple to increase the iPad 3’s size and weight – a direct result of enlarging the battery – over the iPad 2, “An Apple first, and not in a good sense,” he quipped.

An evolutionary step forward

It’s not just Apple struggling to balance device specs with battery performance either. All big-name manufacturers are, “Bumping against the chemistry ceiling.” This is because we’re nearing the point where current Lithium ion batteries don’t have anything else to give. “The bad news is [the problem] is probably not going away anytime soon,” says Kedem, who continues, “there are very few revolutions in the battery space, it’s all about evolution. Anyone who says otherwise is probably using a great deal of imagination.”

Li imide batteryLeyden Energy’s Li-imide is just such an evolutionary step forward, and although the company is working on several solutions, Li-imide is at the center of all of them. The Lithium imide electrolyte works with existing graphite cathodes and anodes – the positive and negative terminals inside a battery – where it can provide three times the lifecycle of lithium ion cells. However, lithium imide also works with other materials such as silicon, which is considered to be the next big thing in battery technology, and could see us armed with batteries that last up to a week and recharge in 15 minutes. Because of Li-imide’s versatility, Kedem says the company’s research into silicon anodes is “progressing at a faster rate than others.”

Silicon anode batteries are expected to offer a considerable increase in capacity, a longer lifecycle and more consistent performance even after hundreds of recharges. However, the technology is difficult to perfect, and requires other areas of battery technology to progress at a similar rate, putting us in a position where we’ve got a while to wait before it becomes available to us, “By the end of 2014 it will be very likely products will be introduced at a consumer level with silicon anode batteries,” was Kedem’s prediction.

Working closely with hardware manufacturers

Leyden Energy is differentiating itself from other battery manufacturers in another way too, as it has taken the unusual step of working incredibly closely with hardware manufacturers right from the start, to create high performance batteries optimized for a particular product. “The earlier we get into the design process, the more impact we can have,” says Kedem, describing an interaction which goes far deeper than you’d imagine, with everything from fine tuning charging algorithms to custom tailoring the battery to give a longer runtime. Traditionally, battery manufacturers sell off-the-shelf designs and aren’t interested in limited runs required for new product development. It’s this pro-activeness and attention to detail that sets Leyden Energy apart, and could well pay dividends in the future.

The solution to our power woes isn’t all about batteries though, so while all this research is going on, Kedem also expects other hardware manufacturers to come under further pressure to produce more power efficient components, citing Sharp’s IGZO display panels and Nvidia’s Tegra 3 processors as great examples of how the problem is already being combated. Another example is for processor manufacturers to make the step down to 22nm production processes, something which Intel has recently announced it will be doing with its next generation mobile platform.

The biggest gains are going to come from new kinds of batteries though, so could Leyden Energy’s Li-imide cells, in one form or another, provide the energy for your next generation phone, tablet, or laptop? We’ll have to wait and see, but there’s no doubt the company has high aspirations, a point proven by its more than 1700 testing channels, a huge amount considering most of the top battery manufacturers only have a couple of hundred. This allows for rapid innovation and let’s face it, that’s exactly what the battery industry needs right now.