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What holds energy tech back? The infernal battery

January 22, 2013 • Business


FILE – In a Feb. 4, 1957 file photo, W.E. Kelley, left, and Robert C. Miller exhibit the nuclear battery, in center of ring at left, powering a radio transmitter. The tiny atomic battery, whose basic material is a radioactive waste byproduct of nuclear reactors, promethium 147, was put on display in New York for the first time. It’s been nearly a quarter of a century since the last big jump in battery technology. As 21st century technology strains to be ever faster, cleaner and cheaper, the battery, an invention from more than 200 years ago keeps holding it back. (AP Photo, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — As 21st century technology strains to become ever faster, cleaner and cheaper, an invention from more than 200 years ago keeps holding it back. It’s why electric cars aren’t clogging the roads and why Boeing’s new ultra-efficient 787 Dreamliners aren’t flying high.

And chances are you have this little invention next to you right now and probably have cursed it recently: the infernal battery.

Boeing is the first company to make extensive use in an airliner of technology’s most advanced battery — lithium ion. But a Jan. 7 battery fire aboard a Dreamliner in Boston, followed by a similar meltdown in Japan, led authorities around the world to ground the fleet this month, highlighting a longstanding safety problem that engineers have struggled with.

In 2006 and 2007, more than 46 million cellphone batteries and 10 million laptop batteries — all lithium ion — were recalled because of the risk of overheating, short-circuiting and exploding. Additional safety features have been installed since then on lithium ion batteries used in consumer electronics.

As for the electric car industry, lithium ion batteries have proved to have two major drawbacks: They are costly, and Login to read more

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