October 1st, 2009
In an announcement earlier this year, Zpower, a California-based battery technology company, revealed that it may begin working with Apple to create a new power source option for gadgets like the iPod, iPhone, iPod Touch, and Macbook. The new power source would come from a recent development in battery technology, the silver-zinc battery. These batteries promise to be far more effective at holding a charge and can hold these charges for more than 40% longer than even the best traditional lithium-ion batteries have been able to. It is certainly an interesting development for those in the tech industry as well as those investing in precious metals like silver.
Zpower alluded to the fact that Apple was interested in cutting a deal with the battery maker earlier this year. Switching from the lithium-ion battery to a silver-zinc alternative would not only be a major victory for consumers looking for a comparably-priced, longer-lasting battery in their gadgets, but it would also be a victory for the environmental movement. The newer silver-zinc batteries are 85% recyclable, compared with lithium-ion batteries, which are very costly both environmentally and financially to recycle. In fact, most of the used lithium-ion batteries are not recycled, but instead shipped to China and sold as scrap. Zpower’s new batteries would be much more eco-friendly while giving a boost to the devices that they power. The silver-zinc batteries are far more stable and reliable than lithium-ion batteries, and are at zero risk for melting-down or destroying the device from the inside due to heat surges or toxic chemical leaks. Currently, Apple has not yet included the silver-zinc battery technology in any of its products but has hinted that the switch may occur as early as the end of this year or the beginning of 2010.
The downside to the new silver-zinc battery technology is the fact that the battery will need to be enclosed in the device and will likely not be removable. For many consumers who use Apple products on a daily basis, this is a major turn-off. But looking at this issue a little more closely does reveal an interesting tidbit of information. The Ipod’s average lifespan, according to Apple, is 4 years. A more accurate number, which is derived from sales reports from the top 5 major retailers of Apple products, indicates that over 70% of iPods are replaced in less than 24 months. iPhones haven’t really been on the market long enough to know what their average lifespan would amount to, but it could be surmised that it would be around 2 to 3 years, give the accelerating pace and developments in cell phone technology pushing consumers to buy the latest and greatest piece of technology. That being said, Zpower estimates that their silver-zinc batteries would last between 24 and 36 months. This is just enough time for the average consumer to buy a new iPod or iPhone. With these facts in mind, the removable battery argument doesn’t shape up to be much of a threat to the silver-zinc battery technology.
Silver-zinc batteries are far less harmful to the environment, cost about the same to produce as the traditional lithium-ion batteries, and last about 40% longer as well. All of these are positive technological developments that will likely have an impact on the world and the consumer landscape in the next decade. But there also lies another question within the issue of battery technology: how does all of this translate into the investment world? Investors of precious metals have long argued that these metals, especially silver, are linked to industrial demand and production. A ramping-up of demand for silver would mean that this precious metal would likely see a surge in value as well. Many other facets of the precious metals investment vehicle would likely see real growth if Apple latches on to the new ZPower product. Silver will be one of the biggest benefactors as more and more green technology like silver-zinc batteries, high-efficiency solar panels, and next-generation superconductors are developed.
The true impact of a shift from lithium-ion technology to more stable and reliable silver-zinc batteries will not be know until the switch is made. However, it would represent a positive shift toward more eco-friendly and recyclable products that give consumers a superior edge over lithium-ion technology. Whether or not this shift will occur this year is arguable, but the industry is hinting that the shift will certainly occur in the very near future.