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Better Batteries May Spark New Consumer Devices, Cars

BASF (BASFY), Toyota (TM) and IBM (IBM) are among companies placing sizable early bets on next-generation batteries that could better power things big or small, such as electric cars or maybe wristwatch computers, according to Lux Research analyst Cosmin Laslau. But not for a while.

First the new batteries might get a real-world test powering unmanned aerial vehicles — drones and microvehicles — for the military, he says, as it’s a case where the customer might be willing to pay double for a 10% improvement in power for the weight. Several new technologies could deliver up to 10 times more energy than today’s batteries, Lux Research says in a new report.

The current Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery market is worth north of $10 billion, Laslau says. But for now applications are limited at the small end by how much power output the batteries have for their size — think of how much space the battery of an Apple (AAPL) iPhone takes up. On the big end of applications are electric cars, where the cost of a large-enough battery to provide a useful number of miles in driving range is a limiting factor. Size is an issue there, too.

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“When you get to large size like say a Tesla (TSLA) electric vehicle, in order to get the range people want … it might cost $30,000 for the battery alone,” Laslau said.

The report, “Beyond Lithium-Ion: A Roadmap for Next-Generation Batteries,” that Laslau put together with two contributors sees military users as the entry point for next-gen batteries around 2020 and consumer electronics adopting new solid-state batteries by 2030, but it’s a hard sell for next-gen batteries in transportation to unseat Li-ion batteries. Meanwhile, research and other kinds of gains are expected to continue improving those and push down costs.

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