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The evolution of the laptop battery

The use of lithium-ion battery technology has grown tremendously in many devices from laptops to power tools and now electric cars. Batteries made with the technology are shown to have some advantages over previous technologies such as nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal hydride.

Batteries produce electric power because of the reaction between the anode and cathode. What mainly separates rechargeable from disposable batteries is the anode/cathode reaction is easily reversed in rechargeable batteries but not in disposable ones. The reversing of the charge is exactly what charges the rechargeable battery and is due to the materials used in the battery design.

The materials are also what separate the many rechargeable battery technologies. The name of each technology type often refers to the materials used or the main material used. Lithium-ion batteries use lithium, nickel-cadmium batteries use nickel oxide hydroxide with a cadmium electrode and so forth. The materials used also play a big part in creating characteristics such as charging time, self-discharge, the number of charge/discharge cycles and more.

Lithium-ion battery use has grown because the battery is lighter than other types and does not display the "memory effect" nickel-cadmium batteries display. They also sit on the shelf much better. On the down-side, they lose capacity over time of about 20 percent a year or more if subjected to higher temperatures regularly.

Two companies have improved on the lithium-ion design. Sony has produced a battery using an olivine-type lithium iron phosphate while Toshiba has the SCiB with an advertised life span of 6,000 charge/discharge cycles and a recharge to 90 percent capacity time of five minutes. While the SCiB has an overall lower output, imagine an electric car that could be plugged in and almost completely recharged in the time it takes to have a cup of coffee.

Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Poland is certified in company repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant. Questions may be sent to him via e-mail at ron@ronpoland.com.

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