HH/Beck: Norm, thanks for your time this morning. I guess we might as well jump right in. Please tell me what part of the world youre in? Ryan: I live in Westlake, Ohio, just outside Cleveland. HH/Beck: How long have you been with Energizer? Ryan: Ive been with the company for some 35 years through in a variety of technical and operations positions. HH/Beck: As Technical Manager and Business Development Manager for Energizer, Id like to ask you about new technologies, and specifically what might be upcoming? Ryan: Well, there are a lot of exciting things going on in the world of batteries in response to the changing electrical requirements of hearing aids, particularly with digital aids. As youll recall, one of the early expectations of digital aids was that the power requirements would probably go down because digital circuits would be more efficient. What really happened as they digitized the processors for the hearing aids, is they realized they could add a lot more features. In fact, the power requirements of the hearing aids tended to go up, rather than down as was originally anticipated! So what had been an acceptable power performance ratio for analog hearing aids was becoming unacceptable for many of the high power digital hearing aids because of the increased power requirements. The other thing about digital electronics is it has a higher, lets call it a cut-off voltage, the voltage at which the circuit resets or clips some of the sound. HH/Beck: Right, Im familiar with that. Ryan: And that raised another important issue with zinc air batteries because they operate at a fairly low voltage, around 1.3. If you start hitting the battery with a lot of power requirement, the voltage drops below 1.1 which is the critical operating level for a digital processor whereas an analog processor will operate right down to 0.9 volts. That raised another issue with the digital revolution of hearing aids that the battery manufacturers needed to address. HH/Beck: Very good point. So how did they address that? Ryan: Well, there were a lot of alternatives. The original thing was, and several manufacturers came out with what they called high power batteries. These companies provided both a standard power line for most of the hearing aids and then a high-powered line for the very high power hearing aids. HH/Beck: And are the high power batteries still in existence or have they actually become the standard now? Ryan: What happened in general was that consumers were totally confused to what high power meant in terms of batteries. In fact, the total capacity of those batteries was significantly lower than the standard batteries. People really got confused because many of those who were buying high powered batteries didnt really need them, and they got a lot less use life out of them! So, it caused confusion in the marketplace. As a result, the marketplace has generally backed away from those batteries. Theyre still being sold but they are not commonly available. I think all the manufactures are working on improved rate capability for batteries in conjunction with maintaining high capacity. What I see coming in the next year or two is hearing aid batteries will have high capacity and high power -- all in one package. HH/Beck: Very good. Lets talk about materials for a few moments.Currently, the most common material is zinc air? Ryan: Yes,its really the only hearing aid battery commercially available. HH/Beck: What about alkaline for hearing aid batteries? Ryan: Alkaline button batteries dont work very well because, although they have a good initial voltage, the voltage quickly drops as you discharge them. Relative to a zinc air battery, alkaline yields only 15 or 20% of the total capacity of the same sized zinc air. HH/Beck: And what about silver oxide? Ryan: Silver oxide is great. It has excellent high power performance but there are two drawbacks. One is that it is expensive! Silver is a lot more expensive than air, which operates the zinc air batteries. Additionally, silver has only 30% to 40% of the total capacity of the same size zinc air battery. Its a great solution for the very high power hearing aids but with significant capacity loss and a price premium. HH/Beck: All right, youve convinced me that zinc-air is the standard and the best option at this time. But what is the next battery material? Ryan: Thats a real interesting question and I think the entire battery industry grapples with it. The thing with zinc air batteries is that it has the highest energy density of any known battery system right now. There really isnt anything on the horizon that exceeds zinc air for the energy density and cost factors. HH/Beck: That seems like a good position to be in.Zinc air is very efficient and its very affordable and it can operate the new digital instruments. But, of course, as consumers and professionals were always looking for the next big thing. Maybe were just not accustomed to actually having something thats quite good so it doesnt lend itself to an immediate replacement need or discovery! Ryan: Yes, I agree. Really, when you get a bunch of things coalescing at the same time it can be quite good. Electronics in hearing aids is improving to the point where they say they have more opportunity to provide more bells and whistles and at the same time they are also getting more efficient in their use of energy. For instance, in the digital circuit where it historically operated down to about 1.1 volts, more recently the voltage limit has dropped down to 1.0 and sometime in the next year or two thats going to be down around 0.9 volts. HH/Beck: That really is impressive and I think it will positively impact the industry. If I may, let me switch gears a little.Would you please tell me your thoughts on dry aid kits? Ryan: Weve done evaluations of dry aid kits. Our goals were to determine how they work with hearing aids and to see if they in fact do take excess moisture out of hearing aids while the hearing aids are stored in the dry aid kit. We also asked, what happens if people leave their batteries in the hearing aid, what happens if people take the battery of the hearing aid but put it in the dry aid kit. Our take is that it definitely dries the excess moisture out of the hearing aid. Interestingly, it also improves performance of the battery if the hearing aid is used in a very humid environment. For example, if the user is in southern Florida and not in an air conditioned environment, they might be exposed to an environment of 80-95% humidity during the day. In that situation, the zinc air battery will pick up enough moisture to prematurely stop the battery from working. However, if they put it in the dry aid kit, that reverses the process and extends the life of the battery in real terms. HH/Beck: What about the preferred way to get rid of a battery once its spent. Ryan: Zinc air batteries are totally disposable in North America. In parts of Europe they need to be recollected. Germany for instance, requires recollection of all batteries regardless. However, different countries have different rules and in a proactive response to the constantly changing rules, Energizer sells in Europe the only no mercury added zinc air hearing aid battery available in the world. But for North America all zinc air batteries can be disposed of with the household trash. HH/Beck: Thanks so much for your time this morning. I appreciate your sharing your insight, thoughts and predictions with us. Ryan: Thank you too Doug. Its been fun.