As these things go, the news that Gateway has recalled 14,000 lithium ion battery packs initially shipped four years ago with 400VTX and 450ROG notebooks isn't overwhelming. It does, however, reinforce the idea that a critical element of any mobile device -- the power source -- is under siege. Indeed, batteries face two sets of challenges.
The story points out that during the past year, Apple, Dell and Lenovo were among companies that recalled millions of Sony notebook batteries. There were many other similar recalls. The reality is simply that the line is slight between a battery being a controlled power source and something that overheats or even explodes.
The other problem is potentially more serious, since even in recall situations the number of batteries that actually malfunction is minute. The growing array of features in mobile devices all demand juice, and this shortens battery life. Indeed, one of the selling points of Apple's iPhone, set to be released next week, is new battery technology that extends the period between charges.
Fuel cells and micro fuel cells that derive power from methanol and other substances have been on the periphery for years. This Alt Energy Stocks story says there are four reasons that they have not taken off. The technology is difficult, energy-saving measures within devices have blunted the sense of urgency to develop new approaches, traditional lithium ion batteries have been extended a bit further than predicted, and creating the infrastructure to support a new type of fuel source is challenging.
Perhaps something is in the offing. In Japan, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) said that its researchers have made a fuel cell the size of a sugar cube. STMicroelectronics is reported in this Electronics Weekly piece to be targeting micro fuel cells for mobile phones by 2009. In what is a bit of a surprise to a neophyte, the company is said to be aiming to provide fuel cells to cellular phones before bigger laptops.
Not being able to provide enough power for mobile devices is potentially a serious problem, but the news seems to be good. Indeed, it looks like a bit of a win-win: While research on alternatives picks up steam, device and battery makers appear to be finding ways to extend the life of batteries in use today.