EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Long Live the Battery: Q&A With Boston-Power’s Christina Lampe-Onnerud

Just three and a half years after Christina Lampe-Onnerud founded Boston-Power to bring new battery technology to devices large and small, her company forged a deal with PC maker HP, which will be the first computer maker to offer laptops with the new Sonata battery.

The Sonata can be charged and recharged about 1,000 times, compared to the maximum 150 to 250 recharges many other batteries can bear, according to the company. Their expanded lifespan and their use of fewer ecologically damaging materials put a green tint on Boston-Power’s cells.

With 43 patents already filed, however, the Sonata is only the first product to come from this relative newcomer to the industry. TechNewsWorld spoke with Lampe-Onnerud to find out more about Boston-Power and its future.

TechNewsWold: How long will the battery hold a charge?

Christina Lampe-Onnerud: That depends a little bit on you, actually. I have an HP laptop that I have trimmed a little bit. I have removed software that I never use and I get routinely four hours of run time. But it depends a little bit on what applications you have. I basically always use e-mail, Word, PowerPoint and Excel and go occasionally to the Web. That’s my basic working style.

TNW: If you’re a person that runs multiple applications and has multiple windows open … ?

Lampe-Onnerud:

It actually also depends on the [laptop] model you are using. If I run DVDs on my computer, it runs maybe two and a half to two hours and 45 minutes, so I can absolutely finish the movie, which was my biggest complaint.

TNW: How has Boston-Power been able to develop a battery without the heavy metals and PVC plastics used by other manufacturers?

Lampe-Onnerud:

On the heavy metals, everyone could do that today because arsenic, cadmium and mercury are not part of the chemical shuttle in that space. They basically take up weight and take up space and create side reactions. We came to this from a different [perspective]. We said we would also like to make this a pristine electro-chemical engine.

Only the materials you want to help drive a chemical reaction should have an opportunity to play in our system. We have paid extraordinary attention to quality control on incoming inspections and vendor qualifications. That has served us really well.

The other thing on the PVCs is pricing. When we started Boston-Power, we said of course we won’t have any PVCs, only to find out that most of the vendors used PVCs at the time. We had to search very, very hard to find a vendor who would make a wrapper — that is, basically, shrink wrap commonly found on all batteries that isolate cells if they were to touch, because they are electrically alive. We had to learn new processes. … But, you know if there is a possibility and a will, you can make it happen. My team did that, and I’m very proud of that accomplishment. …

TNW: What is different about the Sonata’s design that enables it to have such an extended life span?

Lampe-Onnerud:

It’s actually quite a few things. Basically, it’s the chemistry. I invite you to think about a battery from now on as a chemical factory where you have different chemicals that need to interact. It’s also a pretty major innovation around the mechanical design and the mechanical features of the cell. And then we have been very, very active on the application side, trying to understand exactly how currents and voltages are fed into our cells. For that I would like to take the opportunity to thank HP for not only spotting the opportunity to have disruptive technology incorporated into future markets when we were a very small player, but also staying with us, and I am absolutely impressed that they are pioneering this technology in the market.

TNW: But is there something specific about the design that enables the battery to last so long?

Lampe-Onnerud:

It’s a complicated question because it’s not just one parameter — it’s the system, that’s the short answer. It’s the intricacy of all the chemicals, the mechanical engineering and the integration into the device that does that.

TNW: How long will it take to recharge the battery cell?

Lampe-Onnerud:

The cell is capable of 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes and 40 percent capacity in 10 minutes. It depends a little bit on how you integrate it. And I’m sure we will have an opportunity in 2009 to get the benefits into the world market with this type of performance. I’m also sure that HP is trying to get as close as possible to that for the first product. But they feel, I think, speaking on behalf of HP — you should really call them — that they are trying to get this into the market as quickly as they can.

They see an opportunity for consumers to have a choice on environmental products in general. I think it’s also that in times of economic downturns, when people are keeping their laptops longer, to offer a whole new experience by introducing a new battery that gives you a very new experience — basically, you can carry your laptop with you and count on it. And that is for a fraction of the price of what you typically have paid over the total ownership period of your laptop.

TNW: How much will the batteries cost?

Lampe-Onnerud:

I don’t know the exact price. I know that laptop batteries typically cost (US)$150 and … I think you’ll be quite thrilled to know they are thinking about an upsell of $20 to $30.

TNW: Are you in negotiations with any other PC makers?

Lampe-Onnerud:

We have been blessed with quite a bit of interest. [December’s] announcement, though, is about HP and how thrilled we are to go to market with the No. 1 PC vendor in the world. At the same time I can also tell you I’ll be very happy to speak to you in 2009. …

TNW: Is Boston-Power working on batteries for larger and smaller devices?

Lampe-Onnerud:

We have been laser focused on developing a battery that will absolutely delight consumers in the laptop space. In October we announced we are opening up a new laboratory in Boston that will be dedicated to larger systems. It comes partly from the fact that many of our staff members here are quite philanthropic, and feel we must contribute to the stability in the world with the environmental crisis. We will use 2009 to think this through a little bit and hopefully do what we have perhaps provided the laptop industry with — some new ideas and new properties — to also do that for the transportation industry. It’s a major challenge and a major opportunity to clean up our environment. We’d like to participate in that.

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