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Lithium-Sulfur Batteries Unveiled 270

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the amping-it-up dept.
mobilemag writes "Sion Power is showing off its new Lithium-Sulfur battery design this week at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC). SION believes that its new Lithium-Sulfur (Li-S) batteries are the answer to the power hungry devices on the market today."
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Lithium-Sulfur Batteries Unveiled

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  • by shaitand (626655) * on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:16PM (#9146229) Journal
    http://www.army-technology.com/contractors/electri cal/ultralife/
  • by Prowl (554277) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:19PM (#9146259)
    its sulphur
  • Li-S? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    and the dash stands for......e! It's vaporware people! Either way, the NiCad consorteum is sending out hitmen as we speak.
    • and the dash stands for......e! It's vaporware people!

      I thought it said they were shipping samples now. The several-years business is about when they might be competitive as a general service laptop battery.

      = = = = =

      But that looks like pretty TOXIC vaporware.

      Not that the other battery technologies don't contain toxic substances, of course. (Cadmium, for instance, is pretty nasty if you ingest it.) But high-energy storage devices like this are prone to catching fire if they develop an internal short.
  • by BigBadBri (595126) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:21PM (#9146276)
    From the article:

    Li-S could be easily packed into the tinniest devices

    That means it'll be great for powering my tinny DVD, my tinny digital camera, in fact anything tinny and of far-Eastern manufacture.

  • Very nice. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i_am_syco (694486) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:21PM (#9146277)
    What about heat? I know that isn't always a big deal with batteries, but if you've got a device like a laptop, it can become a huge issue. I can imagine these powering the PowerBook G6 or something.
  • Yeah right. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dark Lord Seth (584963) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:21PM (#9146279) Journal
    Li-S still has a long ways to go, only at half the current polymer electrolyte fuel cell technology runtimes and with a maximum of 300 recharge cycles. Polymer electrolyte fuel cells are planned for release as early as 2007, while Li-S is still 3-5 years away.

    Right, so much for 'news'. Call me when "still 3-5 years away" becomes "now available", then we'll give it a good look. As for fuel cells, they have been coming "Real Soon Now" (C) since... What? ... 2000 or so? Chances are we'll be stuck with Li-Ion batteries for quite a few years to come.

    • Re:Yeah right. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:38PM (#9146408)
      Quick update on fuel cells:

      The biggest problem of putting fuel cells into small electronics is the heat generated. Only the PEM [dodfuelcell.com] (Proton Exchange Membrane) type fuel cell can operate at low temperatures (as low as 80 C). Obviously this is a little too warm, so it isn't really useful for an MP3 player just yet.

      PEM fuel cells must operate with hydrogen or use an external reformer to seperate hydrogen from a hydrocarbon. The big thing that prevents PEM fuel cells from becoming commercially viable (like being used in cars) is that a platinum catalyst must be used so most of the research on PEM fuel cells is to reduce the amount of platinum needed.
    • Re:Yeah right. (Score:2, Informative)

      Polymer electrolyte fuel cells are planned for release as early as 2007, while Li-S is still 3-5 years away.

      errr.... 2004 + (3-5 years) = 2007-2009.

      So polymer electrolyte fuel cells and Li-S will be out at around the same time?

      .wook
  • cool (Score:5, Funny)

    by hdd (772289) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:22PM (#9146283)
    " Li-S is still 3-5 years away." Wow just in time for 4.6Ghz longhorn laptops!
  • by smart.id (264791) <jbd@jELIOTd87.com minus poet> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:22PM (#9146286) Homepage
    How about instead of making better batteries, we make it so the electronics don't use as much electricity? I think working on effeciency would be better. If someone is more knowledgable about this subject, though, feel free to correct me.
    • Dha...I am no PhD but i know that greater energy input generally produce more work. And what makes you think no one is working on improving effeciency? Just take a look at the newest Dothan processor from intel. http://www6.tomshardware.com/mobile/20040510/index .html
    • How about instead of making better batteries, we make it so the electronics don't use as much electricity?

      That's the approach that Apple takes. Their iBook line gets ~4 hours on a single charge. The problem is that they're bumping up against the lower limits of power consumption while still offering reasonable performance. If you want lower power consumption, you're going to have to give something up. That something is screen size, processor speed, hard disk, and memory.

      Personally, I'd like a little Pu-238 to power my laptop with. I figure that about 600 grams would power my laptop nonstop for ~40 years.

      • it would keep your balls warm too
      • by hayden (9724) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @09:02PM (#9146586)
        Personally, I'd like a little Pu-238 to power my laptop with. I figure that about 600 grams would power my laptop nonstop for ~40 years.
        I can see the marketing slogan now.

        "The battery that kills you long before it runs out"

        • I hate to spoil a joke, but I'm going to use this opportunity to inject some radiation education:

          1. Pu-238 is an Alpha Emitter.
          2. Alpha particles can't penetrate your skin (or even a sheet of paper) and are only dangerous if they are inhaled.
          3. From the EPA [epa.gov]: "The isotope, plutonium-238, is not useful for nuclear weapons. However it generates significant heat through its decay process, which make it useful as a power source. Using a thermocouple, a device that converts heat into electric power, satellites rely on plutonium as a power source. Tiny amounts also provide power to heart pacemakers."

          Know anyone who's got a pacemaker?

          • But you must not forget that plutonium is a heavy metal and toxic. Guess why we are proud to finally produce lead-free batteries, microchips and such? So disposal and processing of plutonium based products will be some nasty job. The radiation -- as you said -- is not that big of a problem, though inhalation of plutonium particles in almost the tiniest quantity will very likely lead to cancer, since plutonium is known to highly carcinogenic.
            This [llnl.gov] and other articles state that the toxicity of Pu is not that
    • by Spy Hunter (317220) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:32PM (#9146366) Journal
      Of course they do that already. But there's only so low the power consumption can go and still provide reasonable performance.

      Personally, I think the laptop fuel cell [mobilemag.com] mentioned in the article is a million times more interesting than this battery. Available as soon as 2007, they say, with capacity about four times higher than conventional batteries and of course the ability to be refueled instantly.

    • by Indian (17922) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:37PM (#9146396)
      Batteries are not used just in electronics. Just think of hybrid cars, pacemakers etc. Having a portable, high energy density power source benifits a lot more things than just "electronics".
    • Hi-tech toys that eat a lot of electricity are good as they can pay the R&D expenses on batteries. Then the batteries can be used in things like electric vehicles.
    • Hell, it was a *windows* hardware developing conference(or something)..

      the problem with (for example)ms smartphones vs other smartphones? battery life.

      Ms's answer to a problem that to most people seems like a software proble: increase battery. Too bad for them that doesn't really make them any better choice for os(because obviously the competing one's could go even longer on this new battery).

      the real reason for this announcement at there? they just 'need' the pr, and to start a rumour or few going on in
    • How about we do what we're already doing and work on both? Oh and add in more work on lead free electronics, etc., etc.. Then we can derive a variety of benefits instead of just one.

      Strangely, humans can be grouped to work on these tasks simultaneously. Overlook some minor/major faults and we are rather miraculous.

    • Wow! Never thought of that! Just think, all those companies out there designing electronics and nobody came up with your brilliant idea!
    • by Trogre (513942) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @11:17PM (#9147479) Homepage
      I still think there's a lot of potential in recyclable computing. Where the bit bucket is wired not to ground, but to a secondary storage like a capacitor.

      Every time a 1 becomes a 0, the battery is charged.
      Every time a 0 becomes a 1, the battery is drained a bit.

      Only when the battery is empty would external power above the recycling overhead be required. I guess the question is whether this can be done while keeping the amount of energy needed for the recycling circuits below the amount of energy saved. /. did an article on this some time last year but I can't find it.

  • Hmmmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Alexis Brooke (662281) <alexisbrooke AT adelphia POINT net> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:22PM (#9146290) Homepage
    Well, these batteries might smell bad, but atleast they won't be depressed about it.
  • Light on details? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Monkelectric (546685) <slashdot&monkelectric,com> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:24PM (#9146301)
    It all comes down to how many mah (milliamp-hours) the battery can output, and the voltage/drain curve (not sure what the correct name for this is), and I don't see either of those things on this website. So until then, don't bother getting excited.
    • by JesseL (107722) * on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:36PM (#9146391) Homepage Journal
      With the size, cost, and efficiency of buck/boost switching voltage regulators improving the way they are, I don't think that the discharge curve will be as critical as it used to be.
    • Re:Light on details? (Score:3, Informative)

      by iammaxus (683241)
      Not so insightful... What you probably meant to say was "how many milliamp hours the battery stores", but this is also incorrect. Current-time (mah) is a measure of how long a battery can output a certain current, but this does not let you compare the batteries power to batteries of other voltages. The true measure of how "powerful" these batteries are is power or energy per volume or density depending on what you really care about. power is usually given in watts and energy in watt-hours (for batteries)
      • Re:Light on details? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by iammaxus (683241)
        Oops, forgot to finish my sentence: This means that it maintains the same voltage for a relatively long time, not decreasing significantly as it discharges
  • We goddamn better be using fuel cells or I'm gonna be pretty pissed.
    • I'm hoping we'll be using cold fusion by then, but unfortunately I doubt that will happen either.
    • I won't be. I'd much rather plug my cell phone in to be charged every couple days then have to refill/swap-out my fuel cell cartidge that often.

      And as far as transportation goes, we are putting all sorts of research into fuel cells and still haven't found anything remotely practical, while electric rail has been economical for years.

      It would will be cool if there is a breakthrough in fuel cell technology, but I am not counting on it.
      • ...but not for laptops.

        If there were commercially available and low-cost fuel cell batteries that ran on butane, gasoline or methanol - I would all over them!

        The hacking potential alone - sure, the initial ones might come as "non-refillable" or only refillable with special "cartridges" - but a dedicated hardware hacker could pull out the PEMs and such easily. Then it would be a simple matter to combine them and make a custom fuel cell for all kinds of uses.

        I am in the (long) process of building a small elec

  • by PatrickThomson (712694) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:25PM (#9146307)
    More battery info here [sionpower.com]
  • Moltech [moltech.com] is already working on this. And they plan to release it in 2003 .. which means that it should be in the market .. However the parent article claims the batteries will be released in 3-5 years
    • Re:Someone else (Score:3, Informative)

      by michael_cain (66650)
      A little digging on the Sion web site shows that they are Moltech, just using a different name.
      • Wow, Thats interesting, wonder what causes them to use 2 different names .. sounds fishy to me (Of course in true /. tradition I did not bother to look up the Sion website.
  • by AtariAmarok (451306) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:25PM (#9146311)
    Time for "Pull my finger" pranks where someone pulls on your finger, and you boot up the iPod to provide the rotten-egg smell. Hilarious hijinx ensue.
  • by Wraithlyn (133796) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:27PM (#9146329)
    It doesn't say anything about the cell sizes. (It does say "with a better power/weight ratio than anything on the market, Li-S could be easily packed into the tinniest devices"

    The thing that's so attractive to me about NiMH's is they come in standard AAA and AA sizes. I make sure all my electronics take those (instead of say Lithimum Ion, which is usually proprietary), and then I can run everything on the same "fleet" of batteries.

    I hope this tech follows suit. (I imagine it won't at first, but will eventually)
    • What we need to do is update the standard sizes, AAA and AA and C and D and so forth are obsolete and huge. They aren't at all relevant to current technology and devices.

      Sorry buddy, standards are good, but backwards compatibility is only good so long as you don't make significant sacrifices for it.
    • by atrus (73476)
      Generally Li-ions are packed in proprietary packages since they need some temperature monitoring (or in the case of laptop batteries, there is even more circuitry inside) while charging, since the batteries are prone to explode if charged incorrectly. But the actual Li-ion batteries are often made in cells which are pretty close to the standard AA and AAA sizes. Just pop apart some laptop batteries for an example. Of course this rule doesn't always hold, for small form fitting batteries for iPods and such.
  • Sulfur huh? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Lord Kano (13027)
    So now you'll have to worry about smelling like rotten eggs when you charge up your PDA.

    LK
  • Only 300 recharges? (Score:2, Informative)

    by RuneB (170521)
    If I understand the article correctly, it says that this new battery can only be recharged 300 times, and each recharge only lasts about 8 hours. This means that each battery will only last about 87 days, right?

    Presumably, the price of the new battery will be higher than existing batteries, and it sounds like it could be a big annoyance factor to be worse than existing batteries. Would anyone spend the extra money for something that isn't that much better than what we have now? Supply and demand, and all

    • Your 87 day has a lot wrong with it. First, it doesn't account for the time it takes to recharge the battery. Second, it assumes that some crazy eyed bandit is charging the battery, then unplugging from the wall and running it down to 0% while cackling madly, then replugging it into the wall.

      A modern Lithium Ion battery can only be recharged about 100 times before it starts to fail rapidly, and the charge from those lasts 2-3 hours.

      How, exactly, is this supposed to be bad again? Oh yeah, you're an idio
  • Mmmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by k4_pacific (736911) <k4_pacific@PASCA ... m minus language> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:35PM (#9146385) Homepage Journal
    Q. what would the battery industry give me if I developed a lightweight, portable, inexhaustible power supply?

    A. A horse's head in my bed.

  • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:35PM (#9146387)
    My laptop has a fan and blows out hot air.My ARM-based PDA at 400MHz is so cool you can't even tell that it is turned on.

    The major reason we need these ultra-fast and hot Pentiums in our machines is crap, inefficient software. Look at Longhorn: it wants 2G of RAM and a two CPUs.

    A friend of mine has a RiscOS box running a 100MHz ARM cpu. It is slicker than my Winshit PC with a 2GHz processor.

  • by k4_pacific (736911) <k4_pacific@PASCA ... m minus language> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:37PM (#9146398) Homepage Journal
    Across the street at the Windows Reverse-Engineering Hardware Conference, a group of hackers got one of the Lithium-Sulpher batteries to work in a laptop running Linux.

  • by deragon (112986) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:37PM (#9146399) Homepage Journal
    So, what will be the impact of this kind of battery on the environment, once it is disposed? Anybody can speculate?
    • Just a hint ... Suphur is the same Brimstone that is spake about in ye olde testament, and is the main ingredient of acid rain.

      Hence disposing of these things will rot the environment and invoke the wrath of the Lord. If you buy one, you'd best keep it forever, or else you can reasonably expect at least three plagues, and probably being struck by lightning and turned to stone as well.

  • Linux-Sulpher batteries unveiled...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    According to http://www.army-technology.com/contractors/electri cal/ultralife/ the Lithium MnO2 battery from ultralife provide 50% more power. According ultralifebatteries.com, the C batteries are highest rated at 4500 mAh @ 2V. The NiMH C batteries are available upto 5000 mAh @ 1.25 V. This means that Lithium-Sulfer has only as much power capacity as NiMH.

    Did I miss something?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:43PM (#9146439)
    For Crissakes people, if you own a car you're driving around with a Lead-Acid battery. Guess what type of acid it uses? Sulfuric. As in it has sulfur in it. Does your car smell like farts or rotten eggs? Not unless you're farting in it.

    UPS systems also use AGM (absorbed glass mat) lead acid batteries. Don't smell any farts coming out of your UPS, do you?

    Likewise, no, your laptop or PDA will not smell because of a battery containing sulfur. You'll have to keep blaming your flatulence on the dog.
    • So what you are saying is the new AIBO is going to take Li-S batteries?
    • Actually yes. A client of mine had a data center run by UPS with an undersized control unit for the batter array they were using. When said ups overheated the data center was filled by a rancid smell, evacuated and was shut down until it was cleared by the fire department.
    • by pbi (760093) <(moc.liamarepo) (ta) (ibp)> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @11:19PM (#9147486)
      H2SO4 is much different to H2S, olfactory wise. H2SO4, sulfuric acid, is what is used in car batteries. H2S, hydrogen sulfide, is the rotten egg smell. SO2, sulfur dioxide, is a colorless, odorless gas that can suffocate in large quantities.

      I think that the sulfur containing batteries are using alkyl sulfate, SO3- (immobilized, bonded on the polymer), no smell. However, there is another possibility that the polymer is using mercaptans or alkyl thiols. Depending on the purity of the polymer, it can stink (not completely bonded with leftover thiols) or not stink (all are bonded, without any leftover thiols).

      The alkyl sulfate polymer make sense as charge carriers, but the Li+ could be too intimate (closely bonded) to the SO3- group to make it a viable group. OTOH, alkyl thiols can work just as good, however these polymeric compounds are not quite that easy to synthesize. PEO, polyethylene oxide (CH2CH2O)x, is a polymer that has been used for many battery applications. Possibly, they could have something close to PEO using sulfur.
  • Ok (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "Power hungry devices on the market today" had to be written by a marketing drone. Only commercially-obsessed marketing drones use inaccurately hyphenated phrases like "memory-hungry" and "power-hungry."

    The phrases are meant to de-sensitize people to gluttony so they will drive 4.5 ton trucks with 18-inch wheels to the grocery store.
  • by daishin (753851) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:47PM (#9146485) Homepage
    That Longhorn will be able to run on a laptop more than 30 minutes!
  • by steve426f (746013) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:48PM (#9146491)

    With gaming laptops weighing in at nearly 10lbs. [techtv.com] and a battery life between 50 minutes and two hours, it seems they are less than portable.

    Perhaps the Lithium-Sulfur batteries can provide a reasonable amount of time without adding weight--bringing portability back to laptops. Afterall, all of the wireless technologies are useless when you're tied to an AC outlet.

    • I think that is the fault of the gamer-freaks that want a 3+ GHz Pentium 4 or 3000+ AMD rather than P4m or better, IMO, the Pentium M.
      The standard P4, K7 or K8 doesn't have a "battery mode" or any other realistic way to conserve battery power.

      I don't understand why that Hypersonic Aviator has a full-blown P4 with 800MHz FSB while also using an ATI Mobility Radeon, that seems to be an odd combination. If they aren't worried about weight, power consumption or size, the extra few chips to put in a standard R
    • As an owner of a 10lb "gaming" laptop (which I actually use as a workstation as well), I can attest that it is quite portable. It goes with me whenever I travel and daily to work and back, very comfortably. There's nothing that works better for getting work done both at home and at the office.

      Due to its size and battery drain, it's not particularly good for using on a plane, or at a conference, or really anywhere you don't have a table to set it on and a nearby outlet. But really, the difference between
  • by daishin (753851) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:49PM (#9146498) Homepage
    For portable personal-pleasure devices...

    Umm...I mean something running GNU/Linux ofcourse!
  • Really? (Score:4, Funny)

    by rixstep (611236) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @09:20PM (#9146713) Homepage
    SION believes that its new Lithium-Sulfur (Li-S) batteries are the answer to the power hungry devices on the market today.

    Really?

    They're an answer to Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and Microsoft?
  • by GrpA (691294) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @09:22PM (#9146734)
    Is so that when you're working late in a confined machine room, 3 hours past midnight, the smell of burning sulphur will remind you that you're in Tech Hell...
  • by dylan.ucd (612417) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @11:35PM (#9147591)
    why have people forgotten about hardware/software efficiency? instead of using x86-based lap heaters, why not develop more low-power hardware around crusoe and or ppc-based processors.... ? my ppc laptop (500mhz G4) runs cool with no fan and accomplishes everything that a standard research student would be doing, plus many advanced modelling/GIS/rendering/image processing/ and map making functions... all with a 3hr+ battery time on 6 yr old Li-ion batteries...

    furthermore: stop writting/using bloated software!!! i can run my word processor/ of choice on a couple mb or ram, with the HD spun down for hours.... on a machines with less than 20mb of ram and a 33mhz processor... of course i use these same applications on more modern hardware.

    point is: efficient software/hardware can save much more power than these new batteries can provide. yeah, new batteries are great- but why does simple computing have to be so damn energy intensive???
  • My Lithium 2 cents (Score:5, Informative)

    by Becho62282 (172807) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:35AM (#9147950)
    Okay, I have been working with Lithium Chemistries in batteries for 4 years now as a member of the UMR Solar Car Team (http://solar42.umr.edu).

    First a few things about Lithium based batteries. When they say a cycle life of 300 or 500 cycles that means the 80% thresh hold. In other words at 300 or 500 cycles, the "lifetime" of the battery you will still see 80% capacity when all those cycles are through. That doesn't signify the end of the battery either, we have some LG Chemical Lithium Ions (176 Wh/kg) that are 4 years old and still doing well. The problem is that after 2 years the chemicals inside the battery start reacting and could theoretically internally short, causing a dead battery, fires, or the classic cell phone battery explosion, yes that can happen. For this reason we are going to be disposing of those batteries soon, they pose a chemical hazard, you should also do that after 2 years with your cell phone battery just incase.

    In comparison to Nickels, Li batteries are much better 90-95% charge efficient (what you get out compared to what you put in). Nickels range from 60-75%. They are MUCH more energy dense (175 Wh/Kg - 500 Wh/Kg (theoretical limit I think)) while Nickels range in the 75 Wh/Kg range. And oh yeah Lithiums don't get hot, one crucial issue with Nickel based batteries is the end of charge temperature can hit 150+. Also cycle life is better Nickels can get about 200 cycles before they hit the 80% mark, and well that is only if you treat them very nicely. Lithiums are more forgiving with some missuse (just don't over volt them).

    So all in all Lithium Chemistries are pretty much the best battery format out there now, and for a while too. Lithium is the most energy dense element after all. This is why everyone is switching over to them for just about any serious work. sure cycle life is low, nothing compared to a Lead Acid, but companies are working on that, hell 5 years ago a lithium cell that lasted 200 cycles was impressive now Kokam sells Lithiums with 500 cycles and still 80% life with a starting capacity of over 200 Wh/Kg, roughly 4 times as energy dense as a Lead Acid.

    Thanks for reading if you made it this far.

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