Web Extra: NESS beta testing Li-ion Polymer Batteries

Founded in August 1999, NESS (New Energy Systems) employs 46 scientists and engineers who focus on energy storage and display technology solutions. In the few years since the company was founded, they have amassed 146 patents and 24 foreign patents (as of August 2000).

NESS is one of several companies developing lithium ion polymer batteries, which can be made in various sizes and forms. The design change doesn't affect the performance of the battery nearly at all.

About the only disadvantage of lithium technology is its life cycle of some 500 charge/discharge cycles, whereas Ni-Cad and NiMH, which have life cycles of 2,000 and 1,000, respectively. Headquartered in Suwon, Korea, NESS is currently at the very last stage of testing its LiPB, of which release is anticipated this year. Its own gel-type, solid polymer electrolyte blend from easily available polymer guarantees mechanical strength enough to inhibit short circuits.

Lithium batteries are environmentally friendlier than their other counterparts, and thus do not require special handling or disposal regulations. Nevertheless, not everyone is a fan of lithium technology, citing safety concerns. Dongwon Lee, NESS' marketing manager, agrees that measures need to be taken to ensure safety but states that it's easily done. "There are serious safety concerns with liquid lithium," he acknowledges, "most notably its flammable and sometimes explosive nature. Therefore, liquid Li-ion cells are designed to vent if abused or overheated. Also, they should be packaged in metal cases due to their liquidity, which reduces the practical energy density of the battery. [However], the more metal case used in the combination, the heavier the overall package."

According to information on the NESS Web site, its proprietary technology has eliminated some of the manufacturing difficulties that have prevented other manufacturers from producing lithium ion polymer batteries. "NESS LiPB is easier and cheaper to make because it shares much of the processes with well-proven current LiB technology," it reads. "NESS LiPB can utilize much of the production facilities already in place for LiB and key materials such as electrodes are the same as those of LiB and can be readily and cheaply acquired."

Lee adds that "due to its material peculiarity, NESS' lithium ion polymer battery is safer at high temperature and short-circuit situations [than other lithium batteries on the market]. The technology has high design flexibility, realizing various sizes and specifications difficult to be realized by lithium ion. Not having to use the metal casing gives it an advantage of energy density over lithium ion."

NESS lithium ion polymer batteries are currently being tested on their performance and safety in extreme situations, while the company prepares for pilot production and simultaneously performs continuous feasibility checks on various specifications. Lee says that cell phone and PDA batteries are being distributed as sample offer. "Feasibility tests of notebook size batteries are done," he explains, "and those of other specific sizes can be calculated right now if their requirements are given. We are actually asked about their feasibilities from many application makers and are having discussions with them for commercialization."

"We're preparing PDA-size cell production first, but other size cells may precede it if an opportunity allows. It is hard to tell the timing of full-scale volume production at present. It could be started this year or delayed to 2002 as things change."

NESS believes that lithium ion polymer batteries can be fitted for video cameras, digital still cameras, smart cards and MiniDisc players as well as scientific, engineering field, medical emergency and disaster preparedness equipment. The company also believes that its technology will be sought after in the hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) market, particularly since its batteries are safe under collision with a range of more than 150 miles.

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