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Output expansion, R&D boost propel NiMH battery pack line

Upgrades emphasize better performance, lighter design and safety measures. Makers are also improving heat dispersion.

Manufacturers of NiMH battery packs are complementing output and export expansion programs with an active R&D. Riding strong growth prospects for the line, companies are enhancing product quality further to strengthen competitiveness against robust rival lithium batteries, which are gaining adoption in many portable devices.

NiMH battery pack

Shenzhen Grepow's GRP4500SC8-Hump model is a sub-C and stick hump pack in 4,000 and 4,500mAh capacity.

Development initiatives revolve around raising battery stability, capacity, safety, life span, discharge rate and heat dispersion. Many are also working on lighter and modular versions.

Under efforts to improve the stability, heat dispersion and discharge rate, some manufacturers are exploring hydrogen technology. Several are looking into more advanced packaging and testing methods to prevent overheating and explosion, and to reduce costs.

Makers such as Motoma Power Co. Ltd are directing R&D efforts toward environment-friendly battery production. The enterprise can churn out 10,000 NiMH units a day.

To support development initiatives and boost output and exports, manufacturers are expanding facilities and acquiring new and advanced equipment.

For instance, Shenzhen Grepow Battery Co. Ltd constructed last year a $47.5 million factory with a floor area reaching 133,400sqm and a daily capacity of 1 million units. It exports to the US, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Russia, Australia and Japan.

Shenzhen Pkcell Battery Co. Ltd has purchased equipment from Germany and built facilities in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

Industry experts foresee continued strong demand for NiMH battery packs in the next three to five years, citing their cost and performance advantages over lithium counterparts. Despite broadening adoption, the latter struggle with higher prices, comparatively unstable performance, lack of charging stations and a still evolving technology.

NiMH battery packs are still the mainstream power source for consumer electronic devices, portable home appliances, electric bicycles and hybrid vehicles. About 90 percent of HEVs worldwide run on NiMH, according to the China Electronic Components Association. In the consumer electronics segment, NiMH battery packs are widely adopted in DVD and MP3 players, digital cameras, portable computers, cordless phones and electric toys. The battery type offers the advantages of a long life span, high discharge rate, wide operating temperature range, minimal or zero memory effect, larger capacity, greater stability and faster heat dispersion. Further, they do not contain mercury or cadmium, and are therefore deemed safer and more environment-friendly. NiMH batteries can be designed to suit various applications and requirements in terms of shape, size, capacity and voltage.

Most companies registered a more than 20 percent increase in overall sales in 2011. They predict growth exceeding
30 percent this year.

Although enterprises expect lithium batteries to eventually start displacing NiMH variants, makers are confident lower production costs and mature technology will keep the latter line robust in coming years. As such, China manufacturers plan to continue expanding their output, widening selections and broadening overseas markets.

Various NiMH battery types

The selection from China constitutes A, 2/3A, AA, 2/3AA, AAA, 1/3AAA, 2/3AAA, 9V, C, D, SC and F configurations. Suppliers can customize on request.

A and 2/3A variants have a nominal capacity of 150, 360, 600, 800 or 1,100mAh at 7.2V. AA batteries, which are mainstream, support 1,300, 1,500, 1,600, 1,800, 2,000, 2,200, 2,300, 2,500, 2,600 or 2,700mAh, against 1.2, 2.4, 3.6, 4.8, 6, 7.2, 8.4 or 12V. Batteries classified as 2/3AA feature 600mAh, 1.2 or 3.6V.

AAA releases typically have 300, 500, 600, 700, 900, 2,000 or 2,500mAh nominal capacity at 1.2, 3.6, 4.8 or 7.2V. For 1/3AAA kinds, these are 150 and 1,500mAh against 7.2V nominal voltage.

C versions support 4,000 and 5,000mAh at 4.8 or 1.2V. Models based on the 9V configuration start at 200mAh and 7.2V. D and SC sizes have a nominal capacity of 3,000, 9,000 or 10,000mAh. The former uses a nominal voltage of 1.2V.

Performance-wise, NiMH battery packs may be classified as high-power or -capacity, rechargeable or electrokinetic.

In general, models from China are suitable for electric vehicles and tools, consumer electronics, communication equipment, RC toys, digital devices, lamps, home appliances and backup power supplies. AA types remain the top choice for cordless phones, while batteries with 1,000 to 1,500mAh capacity are preferred for lamps.

Alloy powder, and foamy and spherical nickel are the key raw materials needed for NiMH battery production, representing 50 to 60 percent of total costs. Most makers source the inputs domestically but can import on request.

Companies raised prices by at least 15 percent last year to offset swelling manufacturing expenses and losses incurred by a stronger yuan. They expect quotes to stabilize in the
months ahead.

Taiwan: EVs, HEVs & storage applications fuel industry

Taiwan NiMH battery suppliers are looking to tap the electric vehicle and hybrid EV sectors to sustain growth in the line. Many are also gearing up to explore the storage application market, which is seen as another promising segment.

The rapid upturn in the first two categories is expected by Industrial Economics and Knowledge Center or IEK to fuel a corresponding uptick in the island’s NiMH industry. Manufacturers are particularly encouraged by automakers’ use of NiMH in EVs and HEVs such as the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and Civic Hybrid, and Ford Escape Hybrid and Ranger EV.

Storage applications are also spurring optimism among battery suppliers in Taiwan. Wind power plants, and railway and subway systems are increasingly adopting NiMH batteries to power their storage facilities.

Taiwan’s mostly small and midsize makers generally design products for use in wireless phones, electric tools and shavers, two-way radios and vacuum cleaners. Although high-power, lightweight lithium chemistries are slowly replacing NiMH types in portable electronic devices, the latter continue to enjoy a sizeable market by virtue of their safety and environment-friendliness. In some industries, they outstrip lithium rivals, which are prone to accidental burning or explosion. NiMH is preferred to alkaline batteries beset with corrosive liquid leakage.

Industry sources agree NiMH battery packs are easier to recycle than lithium counterparts. Moreover, they contain no harmful substances and do not require the use of protection circuit modules.

Critics, on the other hand, cite NiMH batteries’ low power efficiency under high temperatures. The chemistry’s reduced energy and power density render them less suitable for consumer electronics applications.

Data from IEK indicate the global NiMH battery expanded by 10 percent in 2011 and reached about $2.5 billion. Growth this year is estimated at 4 to 10 percent. The upturn is expected to be stronger than that for lead-acid and lithium battery packs, particularly for 4Ah and large-capacity models.

Japan continues to rule the worldwide market with a more than 70 percent share of production value. Large manufacturers in Germany, mainland China, the US and France are also leading players. Among Taiwan battery makers, Nexcell Battery Co. is one of the key suppliers.

Related report:
Lithium batteries & packs: Li-polymer, power lithium batteries catching up with Li-ion

Product gallery

NiMH battery pack

Product gallery

Formosan United Corp.

Model: AM8299
Description: 1.65 to 4Ah capacity; 7.5V; FDK cells; 156x58x22mm; 220 to 370g; for two-way radios; RoHS2

NiMH battery pack

Motoma Power Co. Ltd
(mainland China)

Model: MT-2721
Description: 600mAh capacity; 2.4V; AAA cells; 500 to 1,000 charge/discharge cycles; -20 to 70 C operating temperature; mercury-, cadmium-free; for cordless phones, transceivers

NiMH battery pack

Shenzhen Pkcell Battery Co. Ltd
(mainland China)

Model: Pkcell2000MAH
Description: 2,000mAh capacity; 7.2V; six cells; fast charging, long life span; for DVD and MP3 players, digital cameras, portable computers, electronic toys; customizable

Note: This article "Output expansion, R&D boost propel NiMH battery pack 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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