laptop battery power

Living off the grid

Human Powered Generator - alternative laptop battery energy sources  
Mk III Human Power Generator by WindStreamPower
30 minutes of pedaling recharges a laptop battery.

Traveling overland from 2006 by 4x4 truck living “off the grid” is not particularly easy. A life on the road reveals how electricity addicted society has become. On the scale of an average household, powering a laptop round the clock sounds like a modest task but the experience proves differently. Without a comfortable AC mains wall outlet it’s quite a challenge – it puts laptop battery capacity well in the spotlight.

Quite a bit of technology is put in place to recharge laptop batteries. A Solar Power System connected to a Laptop Car Charger or Laptop Power Inverter.

Then for emergencies the ordinary noisy generator. All this has given a distinct feel to how much power a laptop battery actually contains and what it takes to recharge it.


Laptop bicycle power

To put things a bit in perspective; To recharge an average 53Wh laptop battery roughly takes the energy produced on a 30 minute bicycle ride. (A bit of head-wind on average speed but no mountains and luggage) That’s 7 Km or 4.3 Miles. However a 53Wh laptop battery takes at least 1,5 hour to charge – so that’s 22,5 Km or 14 miles in distance crossed – wasting the energy to recharge 2 laptop batteries in the meanwhile.

To get through a working day of laptop battery power requires a 28 mile bicycle ride in the morning and afternoon. For a tablet like the Ipad Mini the time to charge the Ipad battery is no less - though the Ipad Mini is far more energy efficient.

Internet access and battery power

In the early stages of the overland journey free WIFI internet access has been a significant factor in using a laptop. In most cases it was possible to sit down in a café and work from AC mains – simply because short range WIFI hotspots also need power.

This has now shifted to long range 2G and 3G cellular internet access. Making it possible to be online in remote or odd locations without a wall outlet . This development put even more pressure on keeping laptop batteries charged through alternative energy sources.

And with al this the quest to save battery power became a sport, reducing laptop electricity consumption to the bare minimum.

Laptop battery industry

The billion dollar laptop and phone battery market is looking frantically for innovation. Battery technology hasn't evolved that much over the past years. Battery technology is limited by the laws of physics, being just a chemical reaction.

Currently, eyes are focused on innovating / improving Lithium-Ion battery technology.With more and more people getting connect to the Internet while on the move, the call for more capacity / higher energy density only gets louder. With the new potential of Nanowire battery technology, based on Lithium-Ion, laptop batteries in the future might take another quantum leap in capacity.

Laptop battery technology

Nowadays the average laptop battery is a sophisticated device. It contains a CPU, flash memory and sometimes a battery gauge to indicate the state of charge without having to turn of a laptop to see it. The process used to charge the battery is a well guarded secret for now. Part of laptop battery technology are measures to prevent tampering with the internals.

Inside a DELL 53Wh laptop battery
Inside a DELL 53Wh laptop battery

The technology and know-how required to manage Lithium Ion laptop battery cells has evolved rapidly over the past 10 years. With higher Lithium Ion cell capacities, safety became an important requirement. The average 53Wh laptop battery contains a lot of energy in such a small box. Although energy density isn’t growing as rapidly as it did in the past, it’s very likely laptop battery capacity will increase even more.

The price for a quality laptop battery is high and probably remain so for the future. On average a laptop battery on this overland journey never lasted longer than a year. At best the DELL Latitude D610 ran for 3-4 hours on a single battery.