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Power Technology

Simple Chemical Trick To Boost Battery Efficiency 149

Posted by samzenpus
from the power-up dept.
space_mongoose writes "Hitachi thinks that a simple chemical additive could significantly improve battery life. Alkaline batteries have a positive electrode of manganese oxide and a negative electrode of finely powdered zinc, but zinc oxide forms around these grains of zinc. Hitachi's solution is to replace the zinc with a fine powder of zinc-aluminum alloy, displacing the zinc within the zinc oxide layer making it a much better conductor."
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Simple Chemical Trick To Boost Battery Efficiency

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  • by zappepcs (820751) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @12:59AM (#19156803) Journal
    another battery from Sony
  • by anonymous_but_brave (1075911) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @01:03AM (#19156827)
    These changes to batteries are really just tweaks. Batteries are still very expensive, and thermodynamically inefficient. Also, they aren't even talking about lithium batteries, which would not benefit from this tweak. I'm still waiting for that breakthrough which will allow me to run my laptop for days (instead of hours) on a battery.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by markov_chain (202465)
      I've given up on waiting. I'm thinking of building either a big NiMH pack out of D cells (10Ah at least), or just get a big sealed lead-acid. The former is light but expensive, the latter is heavy but dirt cheap. Run times close to a day!

      • Making an alkaline battery pack that you only fall back on when your internal battery runs down makes more sense IMO. The alkalines can keep their charge for years in standby if not used too frequently. And if you spend the alkaline batteries out in the field, you can easily replace them with a trip to a convenience store.

        OTOH the NiMH or lead-acid will hold less charge overall and require careful attention. Also, don't buy the mass-market Energizer/RayOvac NiMH 'D' cells... their capacity is very low for t
    • I'm still waiting for that breakthrough which will allow me to run my laptop for days (instead of hours) on a battery.

      I'd settle for that carbon nano-tube batt-capacitor that would recharge a virtually infinite number of times in seconds, instead of hours.

    • by iamacat (583406)
      I'm still waiting for that breakthrough which will allow me to run my laptop for days (instead of hours) on a battery.

      The most likely breakthrough is likely to come from the hardware and software of your laptop rather than the battery. With e-paper type display fast enough for interactive use, 386-level CPU/RAM, flash storage and carefully optimized software stack, an existing battery can last anywhere from a week if you are compiling code to many months if you are just reading an e-book. To achieve compara
      • Powertop (Score:3, Informative)

        by repvik (96666)
        Useful link for saving power on Intel hardware: http://www.linuxpowertop.org/index.php [linuxpowertop.org]
      • by jandrese (485)
        You're going to need that week of battery life to compile just about anything of note on a 386-level CPU these days. 386 level is probably too much of a tradeoff IMHO, something that's say PII-400 level, while it won't last as long, wouldn't be handicapped by the CPU nearly as much and should still get at least a good solid day of continuous use. A PII-400 is enough oomph to browse the web for instance.
        • by iamacat (583406)
          Oh well, my point is not about 386 and compilation but rather the value of energy-frugal software in general. But surely if you are able to type the code letter-by-letter, compiling that code with a suitable non-optimizing compiler shouldn't take long on a 386? Building large dependencies and optimizing the shipping code can be always done on a server.
    • by rbanffy (584143)
      The breakthrough will not come from batteries but most probably from improved processors, memory-based storage and better display efficiencies.

      If you don't need Windows games, you could go with an open-source OS, which means anything ARM or MIPS-based could be fair game. I can easily imagine a asynchronous multi-core ARM processor that runs Linux fast enough for me as long as it has enough memory to keep Firefox happy. Just doing away with PC compatibility would increase efficiencies (imagine not having a v
    • "Fuel Cell".

      They still have a way to go in a number of respects, but it looks like when they do start to be deployed, they will have energy densities that are substantially higher than chemical batteries.

  • Cost-efficiency? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Quite an obvious solution, I'm sure. And battery companies don't do it because they want your batteries to run out faster, so you'll buy more...

    Or maybe it's because this shit makes it more expensive than it would be to just replace the batteries more often?
    • by qbwiz (87077) *
      If it's so obvious, why didn't you invent it and bring it to market, already?
    • by evanbd (210358) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @01:23AM (#19156965)

      And battery companies don't do it because they want your batteries to run out faster, so you'll buy more...

      Do you have *any* evidence for this?

      I'd say the opposite is true. Battery companies *do* come out with new, higher performance models, and they provide good data about how well they perform. For example, Energizer has their e2 line of batteries, which have a longer life under some discharge conditions -- and those conditions are thoroughly documented in the data sheet.

      See also continued improvements in lithium ion rechargeable technology -- in the past few years both power and energy densities have improved dramatically.

      I suggest you do some research into the current state of the art before claiming the battery companies just sit on technology so you'll buy more batteries.

      • by anubi (640541)
        Yes, I *love* those e2 batteries (AA and AAA Lithium) from Energizer.

        Everything I have now has either those or NiMH in them.

        The Lithiums are great for clocks, remotes, electronic test equipment, and emergency gear. They claim to hold their charge for over ten years - and I have yet to see one leak.

        Those are great for those things that sit around forever, but work when you need it.

        As for those "chew up the battery" applications, such as toys, everyday flashlight, power tools, etc, I keep with the NiMH.

      • by smchris (464899)
        Or maybe they want to keep improving the cash cow _because_ it will slow the move to rechargables?

        Until department store and grocery store check outs display rechargables, it is a little difficult to accept that the biz has the best interests of the consumer and environment in mind. Selling rechargables is one thing I will credit our local SuperAmerica with precisely because that is the exception.

        • by GiMP (10923)

          Until department store and grocery store check outs display rechargables, it is a little difficult to accept that the biz has the best interests of the consumer and environment in mind. Selling rechargables is one thing I will credit our local SuperAmerica with precisely because that is the exception.

          They *do* display rechargables, at least in my experience. Especially the gadget stores, hardware stores, and pharmacy/convenience stores such as CVS and RiteAid. (the latter being popular places to have phot

    • by Calinous (985536)
      I don't know who modded you troll, but I think you are right:
        introducing this new technique is costly not only in increased component price, but in retooling too. There might be long-term contracts with suppliers of zinc, and changing them will take some time.
            In the end, better batteries are always good, but the change might take some time
  • Costs? (Score:4, Informative)

    by bigberk (547360) <bigberk@users.pc9.org> on Thursday May 17, 2007 @01:04AM (#19156835)
    I didn't see any mention of cost in the article. For instance looking at market aluminum prices, I am astounded to see that the price of the raw metal is increasing something like +23% per year. I don't know if relatively speaking the aluminum/zinc oxide is more costly than just zinc, but I think a greater point is... if the raw material costs are increasing at such a rapid pace (over 20% per year!) then just how "cost effective" will these batteries be in the long term?

    P.S. the skyrocketing metal costs, including important ones like copper and silver, are part of an ongoing commodity boom and response to out of control inflation in the USA and depreciating US dollar. The rapidly increasing costs of these metals will be reflected in goods we buy, like batteries.
    • Re:Costs? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SnowZero (92219) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @01:23AM (#19156969)

      ...out of control inflation in the USA...
      While I agree with most of what you say, I have no idea what makes you think inflation is out of control right now in the US. The average for the last 8 months is a 2.36% yearly rate. The EU has averaged 0.5% better over the same period. Most analysts seem to think that is pretty reasonable.
      • Re:Costs? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by antifoidulus (807088) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @02:58AM (#19157521) Homepage Journal
        Well, thats the official rate, which is only as good as the methodology that is used to measure it, which I think is flawed. They measure a "basket" of goods and services plus take surveys on rent. However, this is only meaningful if how you spend your money is representative of the way they measure inflation. For example, in certain catagories of goods we are seeing either 0 inflation or deflation because of the huge influx of goods from China(on things such as plasma tvs) but meanwhile healthcare, energy, housing, education, and even food prices(which are the basics of life) are spiraling out of control. So unless you buy a lot of luxury goods, your personal rate of inflation is probably markedly higher than the one the Fed considers. And in the EU it's even stranger because they try to harmonize prices from different countries meanwhile the inflation picture can be markedly different, esp. on things that aren't tradable across borders such as housing. In addition you have countries like Germany that raised its sales tax 3% this year, and that pretty much automatically creates inflation....

        Just my 2 cents.
        • by c_forq (924234)
          I don't see food prices spiraling out of control. I can still buy a loaf of bread or a double cheeseburger for $1. Milk always bounces around, but hasn't been that high. Potatoes haven't changed much and bananas are still dirt cheap. Housing prices have been falling in many areas around me (I believe all around the country real estate has shifted to a buyers market). I'll give you healthcare and education, those ones have been a bit out of control, and energy has been bad in some places, but overall I
          • by timmarhy (659436)
            housing is out of control here in australia, yet it hasn't been reflected in our offical inflation rates. real world, rent has gone up $200 a week in the space of 2 years in most areas. i don't see many people getting $200 a week more in their pockets. if the US method is anything like ours (which i think it is) the offical inflation rate is nothing better then a guess.
            • by mgblst (80109)
              Did you happen to recently move into a new place, in a nicer area? I find it hard to believe that you have stayed in the same place and the rent has gone up that much? If you are referring to some stats, do you mind pointing to them?
          • by battjt (9342)
            If you look at the demand for higher education and medical services, the rise in price can be justified through the increased demand and improvement in the delivered product. Comparing todays education and medical services to those from 20 years ago isn't fair.

            Joe
        • by zerocool^ (112121)

          Yes, welcome to "CORE CPI", which is a bullshit term which basically means "if we ignore the shit that everyone needs, and that's spiraling out of control, we can give you better news about inflation."

          Consumer price index = all the stuff that the parent poster mentions - it's an index of goods from plasma TV's, to the cost of health care, to the cost of rent, to the cost of dinner at the sizzler. It's a somewhat reasonable representation of the "cost of life". Not great, but OK.

          Then, someone noticed that
        • In addition you have countries like Germany that raised its sales tax 3% this year, and that pretty much automatically creates inflation....
          Are you sure? My economics professor would have said that raising taxes removes money from the supply, making interest rates higher but curbing inflation.
          • Raising taxes on income might do that, but raising sales taxes increases the prices(esp. since here in Germany all prices are marked with taxes included). So when the price is measured, they record an increased price.
        • So unless you buy a lot of luxury goods, your personal rate of inflation is probably markedly higher than the one the Fed considers.

          I've heard of this referred to as the "Tchotchke Economy". If you have a market basket which uses Hedonic adjustment [wikipedia.org], the "quality" of a good is taken into account, as well as it's price. Things like computers, video games, electronic gadgets are constantly getting "better" while the price of the group as a whole stays about the same, thanks to constant design improvements and cheap overseas manufacturing. As a result, the market basket experiences a constant downward drag in inflation.

          However, other go

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      On behalf of all australians:

      Could you please prop up the value of your US dollars - it's rather annoying to get pesos in return for our raw material being exported.

      Then again, we like being able to buy your products - oh wait, you don't make anything. Never mind, then.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by mpsheppa (1088477)
      I'm not too sure on the details of the US economy and inflation in the US might well be related to a depreciating US dollar and a depreciating US dollar would have some effect on metal prices. However these effects are very minor compared to metal price rises which are actually a result of increasing demand, mostly notably from a booming Chinese economy, outstripping supply.

      On your question of costs, according to lme.co.uk, Aluminium is currently $2,185 per tonne and Zinc is $3,850 per tonne, so I wouldn't
    • by wfolta (603698)
      A couple of years ago the company I was working for was constructing a building and steel proces skyrocketed in the months it took to complete. I was told that it was China's hot economy and insatiable raw materials appetite. Not saying it is China (alone), but I don't think the US economy is using the raw materials that China's is at this point.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by TimSSG (1068536)
      The price of energy is rising faster than inflation. Tim S From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminum#Aluminium_me tal_production_and_refinement [wikipedia.org] Aluminium electrolysis with the Hall-Héroult process consumes a lot of energy, but alternative processes were always found to be less viable economically and/or ecologically. The world-wide average specific energy consumption is approximately 15±0.5 kilowatt-hours per kilogram of aluminium produced from alumina. (52 to 56 MJ/kg). The most modern smelter
  • If you RTFA, you can see that they've filed a US patent on it recently.
  • Heh, yet another way to squeeze a little bit more out of alkaline batteries. I hope most research is going into rechargeable battery tech these days, because those are the batteries I really care about. I only use alkalines in remote controls nowadays.
    • My list of use for alkaline batteries is roughly remotes, my mini maglites (I keep one in the house, one in the car, and one in my messenger bag), my ColdHeat soldering iron, and my digital camera.

      Like you, pretty much all the rest of my battery powered stuff is rechargable.
      • by philpalm (952191)
        My brother tries to give zinc carbon batteries in the remotes since they are cheaper to buy and he doesn't have to worry since it is not his remote.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by huckamania (533052)
      Any fire alarms you have should not be using rechargeables. It will usually say so on any new alarms you buy.
      • by SnowZero (92219)
        Good point, I had forgotten about fire alarms. I guess for completeness' sake, I should mention that I use a non-rechargeable battery in my watch as well, although it's a lithium and not an alkaline.
  • by mpoulton (689851) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @01:07AM (#19156865)
    TFA is no longer than the summary, but based on the concept it appears that this would improve only the peak current capability but not the total capacity (mAh). In fact, if anything, the addition of aluminum which does not participate in the electrolytic reaction would decrease the capacity. Not sure this is a very useful development.
  • Voltage. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lindseyp (988332) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @01:07AM (#19156869)
    Another advance I'd like to see in Battery Technology, that is for rechargeable batteries to be the same voltage as their alkaline counterparts.

    There are many applications where 1.2V just doesn't substitute well for 1.5V.
    • by philpalm (952191)
      They do have rechargeable alkaline batteries. Maybe it is a new formulation to make the rechargeable ones have increased recharging cycles before finally breaking down. Believe it or not you can recharge "regular" alkalines. However recharging them is not foolproof. When they are overcharged they tend to leak a liquid or (maybe as they say on the label) explode. I haven't exploded any of my alkalines yet. When they go below a certain level on my old Pda (handspring) I am experimenting charging them in a NiM
      • It's also not any better than just letting them sit overnight. They "recover" a fraction of their original capacity whether or not you run a current through them. (or rather, most applications depress the voltage long before depleting the actual capacity, then the voltage recovers between uses.)

        In your experiment, don't forget about the "control" batteries.
    • by NerveGas (168686)
      I'd rather see *standard* lithium-ion rechargeable battery sizes, so that manufacturers could just quit designing things for alkalines. They wouldn't even have to handle recharging (if they didn't want to), just let the user pop the batteries out and into a charger.

      My baby monitor uses AAs, and I *can* put nicads or nimhs in, but they go dead just from self-discharge as fast as they do from use, so I stick to cheap Kirkland alkalines. I keep daydreaming of putting a single litium-ion cell in it, and addin
      • Re:Voltage. (Score:5, Informative)

        by inviolet (797804) <slashdot@ideasmatt e r .org> on Thursday May 17, 2007 @02:06AM (#19157271) Journal

        My baby monitor uses AAs, and I *can* put nicads or nimhs in, but they go dead just from self-discharge as fast as they do from use, so I stick to cheap Kirkland alkalines.

        The new Sanyo Eneloop [thomasdistributing.com] NiMH batteries don't have that problem.

        I recently $wapped out my vast collection of piss-poor Energizer (2500 mAH) AAs for Eneloop (2000 mAH) AAs, and there's no going back!

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by ectal (949842)
          The Eneloops are great.

          They live in my Wii remotes and really do hold a charge waay better than normal nimhs. And as a bonus the white and blue design of the batteries makes them look like they were made for the Wii. (Seems like a missed co-branding opportunity.)
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Rolgar (556636)
          I was researching this earlier this week. The Hybrio [peswiki.com] also looks good. I'd like to try the Eneloops with the C and D size adapters, so I can recharge those as well.

          As I was reading reviews, I found that several reviewers recommended getting a nice charger. The recommended one to get is the Maha Powerex MH-C401FS. Each of the slots charges independently so you can charge any number instead of 2 or 4 at a time only, supports AA and AAA, or NiMH, it can charge in fast mode (100 minutes) or slow (5-8 hours),

          • by inviolet (797804)

            I have that exact charger, and yes, it's a glorious departure from traditional dumb-timer chargers. It's nice to be able to "top off" my batteries any time I wish. I ordered it from Thomas Distributing, and one for my brother too, and we're very happy with it.

        • Have you had them long enough to comment on their ability to withstand multiple charge cycles?

          I've been on and off the Rechargables bandwagon four times now, I think (each time "It's fixed this time"...), and besides self-discharge I've routinely found batteries leaking, not taking a charge, etc, after few cycles, but perhaps a long wall-clock period.

          I keep going back to Duracells in mega-packs from the warehouse club, even though I don't feel like it's the ideal solution.

          I've given up on Energizer and Ray-
      • by rcw-work (30090)

        I'd rather see *standard* lithium-ion rechargeable battery sizes, so that manufacturers could just quit designing things for alkalines.

        The holdup with that is that lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries require some specialized charging/discharging circuitry that would need to be placed inside the battery pack itself for safety (otherwise you get this [google.com] if you overcharge them, drain them too low, or short them). The safety circuitry is expensive (especially if it needs to be made general purpose), so you

        • by NerveGas (168686)
          Like you said, it's already put inside of every lithium battery made, that's not the problem - the only problem is price. I don't think that's a big problem... because of the non-standard nature of lithium batteries, people pay MORE for them now than they would under what I propose, and they buy them in large number. They just pay more to support thousands of different, custom-made battery sizes, and custom charging for all of them.

          And lithium doesn't have a very big advantage in energy density in terms o
          • by rcw-work (30090)

            Like you said, it's already put inside of every lithium battery made, that's not the problem

            I admit I'm being a bit of a pedant here, but it sounds like what you want aren't lithium batteries, but lithium cells. I would guesstimate that the mass-produced cost of the safety circuitry is somewhere between $3 and $10, which would double or quadruple the cost of a cell [powerstream.com]. (a MAX1737 [maxim-ic.com] which only implements charge control, not discharge control, is $2.85 for lots of 1000, and requires supporting components. The LM [national.com]

            • by NerveGas (168686)
              The chips that you mention don't go in the battery, they go in the charger. Some applications (like a cell phone) have them in the same unit, but I'm thinking more along the lines of the lithium batteries used in digital cameras - the batteries have short-circuit protection, but the charge control and protection is built into the charger.

              Here's more of what I'm thinking. Take a look at my digital camera, a Canon, which uses a Canon NB-2LH. It does have a short-circuit protection. Canon charges a ton for
    • Re:Voltage. (Score:4, Informative)

      by norton_I (64015) <hobbes@utrek.dhs.org> on Thursday May 17, 2007 @02:47AM (#19157471)
      Any device which will not run on 1.2 V is poorly designed. Alkaline batteries drop in voltage nearly linearly over their lifetime from 1.5 V to about 1.0 V. Devices can and should run over this full range of voltages. NiMH batteries, by comparison, stay roughly 1.2 V for most of their charge cycle. There is simply no excuse for designing something that does not work for half the life of an Alkaline battery.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Another advance I'd like to see in Battery Technology, that is for rechargeable batteries to be the same voltage as their alkaline counterparts.

      There are many applications where 1.2V just doesn't substitute well for 1.5V.


      Battery voltage is determined by its chemistry.. So unfortunately not possible!
    • 1. They don't have much of a choice: battery voltage is dictated by the chemical reaction going on, as determined by the respective electronegativities of the different species. Here is some more discussion [pima.edu]. So if you have a relatively large voltage, you might be able to get there by different series combinations: a 12 volt car battery is 8 1.5V lead-acid cells in series, but could also be 10 1.2 volt batteries in series.

      2. But they're dealing with the tyranny of chemistry by using dc-dc converters that
  • why (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @01:10AM (#19156891) Journal
    TFA talks about a zing aluminum alloy with the aluminum acting as a sacrificial electrode to prevent an oxide layer from forming on the zinc but aluminum forms a very hard oxide layer too so how exactly does it solve anything if it's an alloy? it will just form the oxide layer anyway and impede current flow. now if it were a seperate electrode you would have a problem where the current mainly originates from the aluminum electrode not the zinc so in that case why have the zinc there? for that matter why are we still using these alkaline battery formulas? they end up with this problem when an acidic formula probably wouldnt from the oxide layer in the first place.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by richard.cs (1062366)

      It will just form the oxide layer anyway and impede current flow.

      Aluminium oxide dissolves in sufficiently strong alkali (it's the method used to prepare aluminium parts for anodizing). I don't know if the electrolyte in the battery is sufficient to do this but that might be the explaination.

  • ... Patent it.
  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @01:33AM (#19157055) Journal
    I'm glad we live in a world with zinc.
  • With all these advancements in batteries of late, my next battery might be my last battery -- in 5 years!
  • I'm glad Hitachi decided to run this by me first, before bringing these extended-life batteries to market. Just schlepping longer-lasting batteries on the market like that could be a bad idea. I mean, some people really like it when their devices die on them mid-week.
  • I only use rechargeable batteries. They can be recharged 1000 times before they die, so they are extremely cheaper than the traditional ones.

    Also, the ability to use the same battery for years and years makes it a lot more environmentally friendly. Just imagine, for a particular gadget you have, how many times you have thrown batteries away. The environmental cost per Wh is a complete nonsense.

    • by Stevecrox (962208)
      For me atleast they last far longer, I have alot of wireless devices most of which aren't placed in chargers (like my mouse and keyboard) over the last year I get the following battery lifetimes (In my Microsoft Intelimouse Explorer 2.0):
      Duracell : 3 months
      Woolworths : 3 Weeks
      Energiser : 2 weeks (any of the varities)
      Rechargeables : 4-6 months

      GP rechargeable will last you forever and the charge doesn't degrade I'm using a set of GP's from 4 years ago which still last longer than my new Panasonic rechar
      • by daem0n1x (748565)

        If common batteries started paying an environmental tax, people would switch. There's no motivation for change, right now. The same for incandescent light bulbs.

        It's all psychological. The anti-environmental behavior is actually a lot more expensive, but people don't do anything because they don't feel the cost. I try to convince people to use rechargeable batteries and gas light bulbs with rational arguments, I make the calculations in front of them to show the money they would spare. The answer is alw

        • by Abcd1234 (188840)
          Actually, it's all economical. Batteries, incandescent light bulbs, heck gasoline, all represent products with negative externalities [wikipedia.org]. In short, the use of the product has additional costs which are not born by the consumer. Typically, these costs are accounted for by, as you say, applying a tax. However, most governments are loathe to do such a thing, especially on commodities, as it's politically expensive and can result in inflation, as the cost of basic goods increases (this is especially true of th
  • So, then what you're saying is these burn longer than the Dell/Sony Laptop batteries?
    Can I order some in time for July 4th?
  • Other than things where the batteries might get lost or destroyed or in things that I rarely use, such as in the many dive lights I've had flood then go boom, or that 3 cell mag light behind the seat of my truck, I stopped using Alkalines ten years ago. You are silly if you aren't using NiMH's in everything. Sure they last half as long and cost three times as much, but considering you can recharge them 100+ times they pay for themselves pretty quickly.

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