New Lithium Battery Promises Less 'Bang' For Your Buck

The main contest here is to produce a winning power source for electric cars and for the next generation of petrol/electric hybrid cars. But the new technologies also benefit the batteries used in laptops, iPods and mobile phones.

Published: 30-Dec-2006

IT'S remarkable what a handful of exploding laptop-computer batteries, out of the hundreds of millions in use around the world, can do for lithium-ion technology. Since the hazard was first reported four months ago computer makers have recalled close on 10m battery packs, for fear they might burst into flames. Sony, the battery-maker mainly involved, has offered free replacements at a cost of $430m and counting.

The first to take advantage of Sony’s woes has been its old nemesis, Matsushita—a bigger, feistier and far more profitable rival from Osaka, best known abroad for its Panasonic brand. In the week before Christmas Matsushita let slip that it was ramping up monthly production of a new heat-resistant lithium-ion battery, introduced in April, from 100,000 units to more than 5m units.

The lithium-ion battery is the reigning champ of portable power. It is considerably lighter, stores far more energy, has a much longer lifetime, and is quicker to recharge than either of its past rivals, nickel-cadmium (“nicad”) and nickel-metal hydride batteries. Another attraction of lithium-ion is that it retains no “memory” of how much juice was used during previous discharges—a weakness that reduced performance in earlier rechargeable batteries.

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