There's nothing like a recall of 6 million battery packs to bring attention to the safety of mainstream lithium-ion battery technology. Now a maker of less volatile power units hopes to earn its products more than just a passing look.
Conventional lithium-ion batteries are made using cobalt oxide-based cathodes, which can ignite if exposed to a spark. Dell and Apple learned that lesson the hard way after reports of Sony-manufactured batteries in their laptops bursting into flames.
Lithium-ion batteries from Valence Technology use a phosphate-based cathode that's less likely to ignite, the company says. They also have an overall life span of up to three times longer than conventional batteries.
Still, Valence has hurdles to overcome. The company's batteries operate at 3.2 volts, meaning electronic equipment using conventional, 3.6-volt lithium-ion batteries would have to be retrofitted to work with Valence's technology. Moreover, Valence's current product, called N-Charge, is a standalone accessory that doesn't fit inside laptops. PC makers have been hesitant to try alternative batteries because they don't last as long, says Dean Bogues, president of sales and marketing at Valence. The company's batteries hold a charge for about 40% less time than conventional batteries do.
"But the question is, will that [conventional] technology ever be safe enough?" Bogues asks.
Valence is working on a technology that will operate at 3.6 volts, fit directly inside laptops, and run for as much as 90% of the time conventional batteries do. The technology is slated for availability in 2007.