The road to a long-lasting rechargeable battery has been paved with hype and broken promises in recent years. But good news may be just around the corner for laptop PC users and others fed-up with batteries that die quickly or fail to recharge.
As the race to find alternative fuel sources gathers momentum, a team of scientists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory has developed a new metal alloy that promises to improve the performance of the popular nickel/metal hydride batteries found in electric vehicles and portable electronic devices.
According to Jim Reilly, the team's leader at the US Department of Energy's laboratory in Upton, New York, the new alloy, a combination of lanthanum, nickel and tin, has a high storage capacity, a long-lasting ability to be charged and recharged and good resistance to corrosion.
"Building batteries is almost as much an art as it is a science," explained Reilly, a retired guest scientist at the laboratory. "This new alloy eliminates the use of cadmium, which is very toxic to the environment, and at the same time significantly reduces the cost without a loss in performance."
While investigating ways to replace cobalt, an expensive metal that can make the cost of large batteries prohibitive, the research team accidentally stumbled on the highly effective lanthanum to nickel/tin formula.
Due to a mistake in measuring the nickel/tin combination, the scientists discovered that a small difference in the ratio of ingredients made a big difference in performance.
Although reluctant to mention names, Reilly admitted that the new alloy is attracting interest from battery manufacturers, and especially the automobile industry.
"This is a very proprietary industry. They don't say much, but they'll try it out themselves, and if they think it worthwhile, they'll ask for a licence," he said, referring to the patent awarded to the Brookhaven team.
Ken Dulaney, senior analyst and vice president of mobile computing at market research company Dataquest, said that the new alloy may help the low-end consumer goods market, but that it cannot compete with lithium as the preferred battery for high-end electronics like laptops and mobile phones.
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