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Gadget users could face battery ‘power shortage’

Rechargeable BatteriesToday’s batteries are approaching the limits of their energy densities, which could mean a “power shortage” for users of increasingly small but energy-hungry gadgets, according to a study by NextGen Research.

While a new generation of portable devices offer a wealth of features with increased demand for power, battery designers and manufacturers haven’t been able to keep pace by squeezing more energy into less space, the report states. That could mean gadget-owners could soon find that batteries aren’t providing enough sustained power for them to use the latest features.

Overall, the portable power market will likely mirror the global economy in the near future — contracting in 2009, with negligible growth in 2010 and more robust growth starting in 2012, according to the NextGen study, “Batteries and Fuel Cells: Portable Power for Portable Devices.” The report projects the global market for batteries and fuel cells for portable products will grow from $46 billion in 2009 to almost $64 billion in 2013.

“This is a staid, conservative market, where developments are evolutionary, not revolutionary,” said Larry Fisher, research director at NextGen. “This does not bode well, because portable devices increasingly require more power, and battery designers and manufacturers do not have a near-term solution to ameliorate the problem. The latest generation of smartphones serves as a prefect illustration, with consumers complaining loudly about the shrinking battery life of these devices.”

The market study foresees incremental improvements in both the primary (disposable) and secondary (rechargeable) segments of the market, such as faster recharge times for lithium-ion batteries, and tweaks in chemistries that provide performance enhancements in both primary and secondary batteries. However, NextGen doesn’t anticipate any major technological developments in the near term; lithium-ion will continue to be the principal chemistry in secondary batteries, while alkaline and carbon zinc will continue to dominate the primary battery market. Much-heralded micro-fuel cells will not gain traction in the market until late in the forecast period.

Batteries will also growing more eco-friendly in coming years, according to NextGen.

“Environmental concerns are driving manufacturers to reduce or eliminate the use of cadmium, mercury, and other dangerous substances in their batteries,” Fisher said. :At the same time, the drive to recycle spent batteries is just beginning to take hold.”

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