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Output growth, feature upgrades spur Li-polymer battery line

Suppliers are emphasizing increased capacity and stability in streamlined designs.

China makers of Li-polymer batteries are boosting output and enhancing product features to strengthen competitiveness further, especially against the dominant Li-ion. Manufacturers are also keen to match requirements in mobile phones, tablet and notebook PCs, digital cameras and electric vehicles, including bicycles and hybrid EVs.

Changzhou Heco New Energy Tech Co. Ltd is gearing up for a 100 percent increase in yield this year. The supplier plans to buy new equipment to achieve this objective.

Li-polymer battery

SouthRiver Products Ltd's SR403040 model with 340mAh capacity and 7.4V nominal voltage is for beauty equipment.

Unitedcells Co. Ltd is eyeing a 30 percent jump in turnout. Shenzhen Pkcell Battery Co. Ltd, which bolstered output by 10 percent in 2011, is looking at a 10 or even 20 percent rise by this year’s end.

China’s aggregate yield is also projected to expand further as businesses shift to Li-polymer.

As regards development initiatives, suppliers are emphasizing slimmer designs yet increasing capacity, safety and stability. More companies are rolling out superthin and high-capacity units for portable electronics. Smartphones, in particular, are spurring the release of 0.5mm-thick models, which are significantly smaller than the 3.2 to 7mm counterparts currently available.

In terms of capacity, a growing number of enterprises are looking to offer 1,500mAh variants. Mainstream kinds start at 250 and top out at 1,200mAh.

Suppliers likewise highlight elevated consistency, safety and stability. Many are steering clear of flammable adhesives, and incorporating overheating and -load protection circuitry. Some are exploring new formulations for the anode and cathode. Several are using cobalt with LiFePO₄, and others combine ternary materials and LiCoO₂.

In addition to portable electronics, EVs are forecast to fuel China’s Li-polymer batter y line. Global shipments of EVs are predicted to climb by over 30 percent by 2015, according to ESM China. In 2020, these are forecast to hit 8.3 million units, accounting for 10 percent of the automotive industry’s total. Hybrid EVs will have a 70 percent share, with plug-in types reaching 1.5 million units.

Many enterprises have released batteries for the application, and more are expected to follow. SouthRiver Products Ltd is working on variants for HEVs and EVs, planning to launch them in the next one or two years.

The domestic car manufacturing sector is also anticipated to provide opportunities as the national government promotes new-energy vehicle development within the next decade. The latter is investing $15 million in the undertaking, the Ministry of Information Industry said.

Most China suppliers of Li-polymer batteries are expecting 15 to 20 percent sales growth this year and next. This is lower than previous periods due to economic conditions in major destinations Europe and North America. Makers, however, consider it a temporary setback and are confident of worldwide business recovery. To compensate for the current shortfall in orders from key areas, they are exploring emerging markets such as Russia, South America and the Middle East.

Enterprises are riding on the chemistry’s advantages over Li-ion. Li-polymer’s discharge rate is more than 10 percent higher. It uses solid electrolyte, which addresses leakage issues common in the former and reduces the risk of an explosion. Advanced models can achieve high voltage in one unit compared with several required in Li-ion counterparts.

At the same capacity, Li-polymer batteries are slimmer at less than 2mm, even reaching 0.5mm at cell level. Instead of heavy types of metal, these use soft aluminum foil and are therefore 60 and 80 percent lighter than steel- and aluminum-encased Li- ion versions. Further, Li-polymer kinds can be designed into different shapes to suit compact portable terminal devices.

These improved attributes and “greener” features will help the variant breach the mainstream and replace Li-ion, especially in smartphones, and tablet and ultramobile PCs. Apple products, for instance, now adopt Li-polymer. In one or two years, the category is expected to corner more than 50 percent of lithium’s global sales, relegating the older chemistry to the entry- and midlevel segments.

There are between 200 and 300 manufacturers of Li-polymer batteries in China. More than 70 percent of them are locally owned, and the rest are foreign-invested. The majority of businesses also offer Li-ion and NiMH chemistries. Over two-thirds of the companies are based in Guangdong province, specifically in the cities of Shenzhen, Dongguan and Zhongshan.

Various Li-polymer battery types

The selection in China consists of solid and glue-electrolyte, and polymer configurations. The first combines the electrolyte with polymer and salt, and the second with polymer and plasticizers. These configurations suit high- and room-temperature applications, respectively. The last kind employs conductive polymer.

Of the three, glue-electrolyte batteries lead output with a more than 80 percent share. Mainstream models are rated at 3.7V and have a capacity rating of 250 to 1,500mAh. These are mainly adopted in mobile phones, digital still and video cameras, MP3/MP4 players, personal navigation devices, Bluetooth products, PDAs, tablet and notebook PCs, and RC toys. Releases meet UL, CE and RoHS requirements.

Anode and cathode materials, electrolytes and separators are the key inputs used in Li-polymer battery manufacture. The first, which accounts for one-third of costs and is key to performance, includes LiCoO₂, LiMn2O₄ and LiFePO₄. Cathode inputs cover graphite and solid carbon.

Makers generally source requirement locally. To ensure high performance, some turn to overseas partners for the anode. A123 is the largest provider of LiFePO₄ worldwide.

In China, there are more than 10 suppliers, led by Tianjin STL. Separators come entirely from abroad.

Of the three main anode types, LiFePO₄ is widely recognized as the best option for lithium power batteries for its high capacity, temperature resistance and safety. It has a long life span exceeding 2,000 cycles.

The preparation of the anode variant, however, involves two key technologies that are patented. These are carbon coating and carbothermal reduction, owned respectively by Canada’s Phostech and Valence of the US.

The use of LiFePO₄ therefore raises aggregate production outlay, diminishing the price advantage of China suppliers. To address this and strengthen competitiveness in the long term, most are developing in-house formulations. Changzhou Heco is working on new anode materials for its power batteries.

Despite higher LiFePO₄ costs, makers expect spending on other raw materials to continue declining. This and the intensifying price war will prompt a reduction of about 5 percent in coming months.

Related report:
Lithium batteries & packs: Guangdong secures major hub status

Li-polymer battery

Product gallery

Advanced Electronics Energy Ltd
(mainland China)

Model: AE453048P
Description: 950 to 1,000mAh capacity; 3.7V; 53x34x52mm; 18g; RoHS

Li-polymer battery

Changzhou Heco New Energy Tech Co. Ltd
(mainland China)

Model: 1260J0
Description: 10Ah capacity; 3.2V; ≥2,000-cycle life span; 12x60x190mm; 270g; RoHS, UL

Li-polymer battery

Formosa Electronic Industries Inc.

Model: Label Pack
Description: 7,300mAh capacity; 3.7V; ATL 5159B5 cell; aluminum film; 116.7x117.3x5.6mm; 150g; for e-book readers, tablet PCs

Li-polymer battery

Foshan Shunde Entitech Battery Co. Ltd
(mainland China)

Model: P1010073
Description: 1,000mAh capacity; no leakage at 65 C; custom sizes; CE, PSE, REACH, RoHS, UN38.3

Li-polymer battery

Gentle Wayeer Electric Co. Ltd

Model: 455085P
Description: 2,000mAh capacity; 3.7V; high energy density, low self-discharge rate and internal resistance; 500 to 1,000-cycle life span

Li-polymer battery

Shenzhen Pkcell Battery Co. Ltd
(mainland China)

Model: 402030
Description: 190mAh capacity; 3.7V; 4.2V charging voltage; 500-cycle life span; 4x20x30mm; 4g; for MP3/MP4 and portable DVD players, PDAs, laptops, GPS devices; CE, RoHS

Li-polymer battery

Unitedcells Co. Ltd
(mainland China)

Model: UC-Y 651540
Description: 3.7V nominal, 2.75 to 4.2V operating voltage; 2C maximum discharge, 1C charge current; 5% self-discharge rate; >500-cycle life span

Note: This article "Output growth, feature upgrades spur Li-polymer battery line" was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.

All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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