Entertainment, Hardware

UPDATE * PowerGenix brings 100 year old technology back to life for your Digital Camera

We mentioned that CES this year was a bit of a let down from the big guys like Microsoft, nVidia, AMD and Intel. Instead of wowing us with new consumer technology things were pretty much a rehash of items already in play. But that is not to say that CES was a letdown. Quite the opposite in fact; we found that the lack of major announcements by the big guys allowed us to explore the floor much more. One of the smaller companies that we ran across was PowerGenix.  If you have not heard of PowerGenix before do not be too concerned; before meeting them at CES we had never heard of them either. After our experience with their product; they are a company that we won?t soon forget. So without too much more preamble, let us introduce you to PowerGenix and their 100% recyclable Nickel-Zinc 1.6 Volt rechargeable batteries.

Who is PowerGenix –

and why Nickel-Zinc?

PowerGenix is a San Diego based company that provides environmentally friendly battery solutions. They [re]developed an old concept from 100 years ago. No, it is not another Nikola Tesla invention; this time Thomas Edison is the original creator and the technology is using an electrochemical combination of Nickel and Zinc for a rechargeable battery system. This combination was to be used to power vehicles before the introduction of the internal combustion engine and also had potential for other uses but due to technological limitations was soon replaced.

But as with many ideas from the past as technology improves these flashes of early genius are reintroduced in more efficient forms. This is the case with NiZn [Nickel-Zinc]. Most of you know about the current forms of rechargeable batteries. There is Nickel-Cadmium [NiCad], Nickel-Metal-Hydride [NiMH] and Lithium-Ion [Li-Ion].  Now NiCad and MiMH have been predominantly replaced by Li-Ion in consumer electronics like Phones and PDAs your typical AA or Power Pack will still use NiCad or NiMH [although you can find some Li-Ion at a much higher price]. Still each of these types has their disadvantages for commercial usage.

NiCad ? The old NiCad battery is probably the worst form; it has serious environmental and health issues. Cadmium is an extremely toxic substance that is not good for you [it is a carcinogen] or the environment. This means that its use and reuse is subject to expensive processes to ensure worker and consumer safety. But outside of the health concerns NiCad batteries have other problems. One of these is an issue where batteries using this electrochemistry can develop a memory. This is when the batter does not know its full charge capacity but thinks that it has less available. This can happen when the NiCad battery is not allowed to fully discharge before recharging it. As most consumers do not want their equipment to die before recharging it is a problem that often pops up in real world usage. Because of this and the very serious health concerns NiCad is seldom used anymore for batteries.

NiMH ? After the NiCad came the NiMH Battery. This electrochemical compound did not have the same health and environmental issues that the NiCad had but it did have some other limitations. While the NiMH has up to three times the volumetric energy density [capacity] of NiCad batteries its self-discharge [the rate that a battery loses charge when not in use] can be much higher. NiMH batteries are also affected more dramatically by the operating and storage temperatures that it is exposed to especially sub-zero temperatures.  NiMH is also typically more expensive than other solutions.

Li-Ion ? Lithium-Ion is the now the most common rechargeable battery available today. They have one of the best volumetric electrical densities out and do not have any memory issues like NiCad batteries do. However, they are not all beer and pretzels.  Li-Ion batteries have a very low operating temperature range compared to both NiCad and NiMH. They have been known to explode when overheated. There have also been reports of them overheating and bursting if overcharged. There have been more than a few recalls on defective Li-Ion based batteries. Also Li-Ion based batteries have longevity issues and can lose up to 35% of their capacity per year if they are run outside their operating temperature.  Li-Ion batteries also have a much higher nominal rate [usually at 3.5v] making them less than suitable for typical consumer use outside certain specialty products [Cell Phones, PDAs, Digital cameras, etc.]

NiZn ? Nickel-Zinc is the reintroduction of an old idea.  It maintains the use of Nickel as the positive electrode but changed out the negative plate for Zinc [Instead of Cadmium or Metal Hydride]. This use of Zinc, which chemically similar to Cadmium offers some advantages.  NiZn has better volumetric electrical density than either NiCad or NiMH.  It has very little environmental impact and no known toxic side effects on humans or animals. NiZn also has no memory issues and also have a higher operating temperature range than either Li-Ion or NiMH and also have a higher nominal discharge rate of 1.6V vs. the 1.2V of NiMH and NiCad. This rate is close to the 1.5V of your typical alkaline batteries.  On top of all of this the nickel and zinc components can both be fully recycled with a reuse level of almost 100% for both materials.

Of course this is not an in-depth chemical or technical analysis of each battery type but an overview [in simple terms] that cover the highlights of each.

The PowerGenix 1.6V Batteries and Charger –
As we mentioned we met up with PowerGenix at CES 2010. First we saw them at the Lunch at Piero?s; there they talked with us about the new technology and how they were a better choice for rechargeable AA and AAA batteries. We arranged to meet up with them and setup a sample of their AA NiZn for use in our Canon Digital Rebel T1i camera. When we got to their small booth in the North Hall we had quite a bit to see.  PowerGenix showed how in a simple demo how much more power their product can provide over the typical NiMH or NiCad battery. They put two identical battery operated cars head to head. One had the PowerGenix batteries in it and the other a competing NiMH battery. The NiZn batteries easily pushed the NiMH powered car back across the table.

We were very intrigued and as we packed up the sample we looked forward to getting these 1.6V AA?s into our camera.

PoweGenix provided us with a single four-slot rapid charger and twelve AA NiZn 1.6v batteries.  The charger is a typical item and is built along the same lines as almost any other modern battery charger.  
It can hold either four AA sized batteries or two AAs and two AAAs in the center two slots.

As we mentioned above we used the PowerGenix AAs in our Canon Digital Rebel T1i Digital camera. This also has BG-E5 battery grip. This device connects to the bottom of the T1i and allows you to use either two LP-E5 batteries or six AA batteries in a second tray.

After a full overnight charge of the six batteries we needed we set out to try and kill them during CES. However, not matter how much video or RAW image files [with flash] we took the batteries would not die. As of this writing we still have the same six batteries in the T1i and it is still showing 100% charge on the LCD display. This is after over 800 RAW images and close to one hour of video.  This is in very stark contrast to even two LP-E5 batteries. These typically last me for about 500-700 RAW images before I need to recharge them.  I hope to have a final Image Count on this battery set for you in a follow on but for now I can tell you that they just do not seem to want to die. To further expand our testing after I returned from CES I placed two of these in a single Wii Remote while leaving the a 2nd Wii Remote with standard alkaline batteries after a period of two weeks of daily use [two hours each day] the alkaline batteries show ½ charge while the PowerGenix NiZn show a full charge. We plan to see exactly how long these will last in more devices in the near future including wireless mice, keyboards, and smaller digital cameras.

Value –
Now for the downside; as with most rechargeable battery systems the upfront cost puts many people off. They look at the cost of a 20 pack of AA batteries at $14 and see that to get just the charger and four NiZn batteries they have to shell out $35. If they want more than that they need to cough up another $30 to get to 12 total [if you get the same 1.6v flavor]. The total up-front cost for half the number of batteries is now over four times the cost of just buying plain batteries.  To many people will not see this as a good deal, they will spend the lesser amount and not worry about it. But as these standard batteries do not have the same life span in hardware like digital cameras they will often replace them twice before they would need to recharge their NiZn batteries. By the same comparison a set of four Lithium batteries for digital camera from Energizer will set you back almost $12 and they are not rechargeable. The rechargeable LP-E5 runs $74 while four NiMH AAs will cost you $18 [not including the charger] So while the initial cost seems high, in reality it is reasonable to get the same quality batteries and much more for rechargeable ones using a lower quality electrochemical combination.

Conclusion –
Rechargeable batteries are a hit and miss thing. Many people are not going to see the advantage and not buy them regardless of how good they are. Most people also do not see the environmental impact of using the typical alkaline battery; they recycle paper, plastic and other materials but usually do not think twice about throwing batteries [even ones they are not supposed to] away in the regular trash. Even if they do recycle their batteries there are still environmental hazards and the return rate on components [other than the nickel] is low. The PowerGenix Nickel-Zinc batteries offer a great compromise in terms of price and performance. They also offer a more eco-friendly option to regular, NiCad and NiMH batteries. We were quite impressed with the performance of these in all of the devices we have tested so far and can highly recommend them for use in even high-end digital cameras [even over the canon LP-E5 batteries]. The cost and performance simply make the PowerGenix NiZn AA 1.6v batteries the obvious choice here and easily take our Editor?s Choice for Prosumer gear.

We attended the 52nd Daytona 500. This ended up being a six hour and 12 minute race with two red flag situations that totaled over two hours of down time. During the race I used the same Six PowerGenix AA batteries that I put in my Canon Digital Rebel T1i back in January. During the race I shot 311 RAW images and four 7-10 minute 720P videos. The battery indicator still reads 100% charge. I did not turn the camera off from the start of the race to the finish, I only let it enter the sleep mode. I am doubly impressed with these batteries as I am used to needing to replace the battery pack on my camera at least once during an event like this.

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