A start-up called BatteryVampire wants to give renewed life to your discarded batteries by taking advantage of a little known fact — when alkaline batteries appear to be dead, there is sometimes still up to half the energy left. BatteryVampire’s technology taps into that remaining energy and makes it available to the device until all that remaining usable energy is depleted.
BatteryVampire is the same shape and size as a standard AA battery and takes the place of the second battery in a device. It uses the remaining energy in one of the 'spent' batteries to power the device as if it had two new batteries. Once this AA battery is finally depleted, the other spent AA battery can be substituted and the remaining energy in that one can be used up.
Although scientists are working on more eco-friendly alternatives to traditional toxic batteries to power our gadgets, it will be some time before this reaches scale. Until then, innovations such as BatteryVampire’s may help us to reduce the around ten billion alkaline batteries sent to the landfill each year.
BatteryVampire has launched a Kickstarter campaign to get its technology off the ground, which ends Christmas Day. To get a better idea of what the innovation is all about, I spoke with David Smith, CEO of 2ndLifeTech, the parent company of BatteryVampire.
Why do batteries waste half their energy?
Smith: It's really not the batteries. It's the electronics that cannot currently use all the energy in a battery. The reason for that is that modern electronics need to be powered above a certain threshold to work and that threshold is significantly above where the battery actually runs out. Therefore, there is a gap between the energy left when a battery stops working in a device and when the battery completely runs out. BatteryVampire’s technology can access the energy below that threshold and once again make it available to the device until the battery runs out completely.
Does BatteryVampire work with rechargeable batteries?
Smith: Rechargeable batteries have other complications. NiMH and NiCd rechargeable are a much lower voltage than alkaline batteries and therefore reach that threshold sooner. BatteryVampire technology can also access the energy that is left below that threshold and once again make it available to the device. As BatteryVampire would cut off at 1 volt, it will not damage the battery from recharging again. We also have heard reports of 30 percent of Li-ion batteries not being used before they have to be recharged such as in your iPhone. We need to validate that and explore to see if BatteryVampire technology can address that waste also.
Why haven't battery producers addressed this problem on their own?
Smith: Again, it really isn’t a problem with the batteries. Battery manufacturers have known about this for a while and even publish this fact on their websites (deeply hidden). However, since the amount of energy that is left is dependent on the individual piece of electronics being powered by that battery — they all exhibit individual thresholds — they severely underestimate what is wasted at 10 percent so as not to cause general alarm. To get a more accurate figure they would have to measure it for every piece of equipment that uses a battery — and they are not going to do that. It is not in their interest. Ten billion disposable batteries are discarded every year with significant energy still left in them. It’s very hard to give up a revenue stream like that.
What does BatteryVampire plan on doing with its Kickstarter funds, specifically?
Smith: BatteryVampire is really a transformative technology rather than a product. Our first Minimum Viable Product using that technology is to make a “make one AA battery act as two” unit. The Kickstarter funds would pay for 2,000 units to be manufactured.
Where do you see BatteryVampire's innovation going several years down the road?
Smith: As BatteryVampire is really a transformative technology, the widest use would be if it was reduced to the size of an Integrated Circuit ‘chip’ that every device manufacturer could purchase along with all their other components that they include in their device to either extend the running time or reduce the size by using less batteries to power it. Our future is to seek funding to get the technology optimized and miniaturized into a ‘chip’.