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Last Updated: Friday, 1 October, 2004, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
Power on the move
By Chris Long
BBC Click Online reporter

Chris Long
Chris Long wants a power cable long enough to surf the web outdoors
Many people produce their own power, something simple enough to do if you have an engine and enough power to pull a furnished ice cream van full of kids around the country.

But, as personal technology has developed, we have had to invent even more technology to power it.

Most of what powers our laptops and PDAs today is based on tweaked versions of what Mr Volta - inventor of the first electrical battery - developed over 200 years ago.

But things are changing, as Peter McBrien, of PSA Parts Ltd, explains.

"Most laptops that you buy today will come with Lithium-Ion batteries. But more recently Lithium-Ion-Polymer batteries have been developed.

"The fundamental advantage of these is that they are much lighter but give you the same amount of power.

"They are just starting to come into mass production. At the moment they cost rather more than Lithium-Ion batteries and give you about 20% extra power at the same weight, so in two or three years time that may be the standard power cell you find inside your new laptop."

Cranking it up

Some notebooks allow an extra battery to be slotted into the space where the floppy disk drive or CD Rom drive would go.

Power inverter
A power inverter means you can run your notebook in the car
If you are in a car, or near any other 12 volt Direct Current source, you can get a power inverter that turns 12 volts DC into the Alternating Current that supplies the power brick of your notebook.

Some manufacturers will even sell you a power brick that does it for you.

For smaller gadgets like phones there are many battery devices that can quickly get you out of No Power Jail.

But if you truly want freedom from cables and batteries, you only need to look at the sun.

Of course it only works during the day and when it is sunny, but solar power is finally being taken seriously enough even to be built into clothing.

Clockwork radio
The clockwork radio was a revolutionary invention
Perhaps the most usable alternative to batteries is clockwork, like the wind up radio. This too has developed over the years, as Vivian Blick, of Tango Group, explains.

"The original worked on a steel-carbon spring, 27 feet in length, which weighed about 2kg. Now you can wind for 30 seconds and get the same 30 minutes play time but it's a fraction of the weight and size."

And now we are even seeing developments in water batteries - they only drive pocket calculators and clocks at the moment but who knows what the future may hold.

Going afloat

Stephen Cole also visited a narrow boat which proves it is possible to run powerful electrical equipment without having to connect to the power grid.

Lee Pascal, the narrow boat owner, explained how he keeps his dishwasher, microwave, television and everything else running.

"It's similar to the way a car powers it lights, running through an alternator. But on a car you have one battery - I have eight. So they build up a fair resource of power to run all these things.

"While I'm on the move I'm feeding the battery through the engine, so I can run one of my appliances.

"I also have an inverter. This takes the battery power and converts it to 240 volts. When I'm lying low, and moored up overnight, I can run the microwave, kettle or toaster on my stored up battery power.

"But if I want to run a heavy appliance like the washing machine, drier or dishwasher, I run a generator. I have a seven kilowatt generator which means I can run two or three appliances and still power up the batteries for the next day."

Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 0745, 2030, Sunday at 0430, 0645 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. It is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0745 and BBC One: Sunday at 0645. Also BBC World.

Other items in this programme:

Water sparks new power source
19 Oct 03 |  Technology
Solar plan for Indian computers
05 Sep 04 |  Technology
Micropower 'could fuel UK homes'
12 Apr 05 |  Science/Nature

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