Power Companies Show Progress On Less Travelled Paths

March 12, 2009
In his editorial, Electronic Design's Joe Desposito gives the latest update on three companies working on novel ways to use power: Fulton Innovation, Energizer, Epson, ZPower and Green Plug.

Power is key to any design, so it’s not surprising that I often meet with companies involved in the power industry. What does surprise me is that many of these companies are working with power in novel ways. And from what I can tell, they are making good progress, too. You can find videos of some of my most recent meetings, which I describe below, including interviews and demonstrations, at electronicdesign.com/subject/ces2009.

WIRELESS POWER Wireless power makes a great demo, but I don’t own any pads that will charge all my electronic gadgets, and I don’t think I could buy one at this point either. Wireless charging seems to work best when the system is designed to charge that way, like my electric toothbrush. Nevertheless, wireless charging in one form or another is making progress.

I recently met with David Baarman, director of advanced technologies at Fulton Innovation, and he showed me a neat demo of an electric blender working with wireless power. To realize this vision, of course, one coil must be built into the kitchen counter and the other into the blender. But it makes for a neat demo, as I said. Futuristic houses could definitely use this particular setup as a wow factor.

Fulton’s eCoupled technology makes the blender go and could provide power or charging to other electronics as well, such as laptops and smart phones. There’s a lot more to eCoupled technology than just the electromagnetics. A good description is on the company’s Web site at fultoninnovation.com.

Epson (www.eea.epson.com) is into wireless power as well. But the demo I saw involved a more conventional coupling of a charging pad with a specific device, such as a cell phone. You lay the device on the pad for convenient and fairly fast charging.

There’s some intelligence involved here, since the charger senses if any metal comes between the phone and pad, which can be dangerous. Built-in intelligence shuts the charger down before things heat up.

BATTERY AND OTHER POWER Last year, I met with a representative from Zpower (www.zpower.com) to learn about its silver-zinc battery technology. This year I got a chance to speak with Ross Dueber, president and CEO of the company. Dueber told me that Zpower is working with a major manufacturer of notebook computers and will go into production later this year. It’s also working with a major manufacturer of mobile phones and hopes those will be out in 2010.

According to the company, these batteries deliver up to 40% more run time than traditional lithium-ion batteries and offer significant environmental and safety advantages. Dueber says a typical notebook needs only minor changes to work with silver-zinc batteries, since Zpower builds most of the intelligence into the power-management unit in the battery itself.

A company looking beyond its traditional battery line is Energizer (www.energizer.com). Its Hard Case Professional eCoupled Swivel Light is a rechargeable contractor-grade flashlight that works in tandem with the Leggett & Platt e-Coupled in-vehicle wireless console charger to give professionals a versatile LED light that’s always charging and ready to use.

Last December, Energizer announced it was working with Fulton Innovation to accelerate the development of these kinds of products, which implement intelligent wireless power technology.

Another kind of charger is Energizer’s Rechargeable Solar Charger for AA and AAA rechargeable batteries. It uses a solar panel to convert sunlight into useable energy. It also can be plugged into an ac wall outlet for additional charging flexibility.

POWER SUPPLIES I met with Green Plug (www.greenplug.us) this year to follow up on last year’s report on its universal power adapter (see “Putting All Your Power Adapters In One Basket” at www.electronicdesign.com, ED Online 18353). Since then, the company has secured its first customer, Innergie (www.myinnergie.com).

Innergie’s Greentalk-enabled mCube90G is the world’s smallest universal power adapter and the first implementation of the Green Plug protocol. Green Plug’s Greentalk open system universal power interface enables consumer electronics to obtain power from any compliant external power adapter.

Late last year, Green Plug organized an online movement to help build momentum for its technology. Consumers at iwantmygreenplug.com have been voting for the CE product they’d most like to “Green Plug-enable” and letting manufacturers know that they’re ready and eager to buy compliant brands that deliver convenience and eco-friendliness.

ONE POWERFUL DAY In addition to our One Powerful Issue, we are also planning to host another One Powerful Day. Scheduled for March 31, this daylong series of webinars will tackle photovoltaics, thermal management, portables, and other key topics. Sign up for it today at electronicdesign.com/onepowerfulday.

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