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NEC develops organic battery for IT use

No more poisonous ingredients

Researchers at NEC have developed a new type of rechargeable battery that is based on organic compounds and could be useful in a wide range of IT-related applications.

The Organic Radical Battery, or ORB, is based on a similar cell structure to a Lithium Ion battery, of the type commonly found in devices such as notebook computers and mobile phones, but with one significant difference: instead of using poisonous ingredients like lithium and cobalt it uses an organic compound called PTMA.

The change not only makes the battery more environmentally friendly but also delivers some properties that could make it better suited to certain applications than existing batteries.

Chief among these is a high power density: an ORB can deliver much more power than a Lithium Ion battery of the same size.

However the energy density, which relates to how long the power can be supplied, is lower than Lithium Ion. This combination points towards applications where a large amount of power is needed for a short time.

One such application – providing enough power to allow a PC to backup data and shut down properly in the event of a main power failure – has been used by the NEC team to demonstrate the technology. Four of the small, thin ORB cells are all that's required to keep a desktop PC running for the 10 or 20 seconds required to carry out such an operation.

It's not the same as an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), which can typically power a PC for about an hour, but the small size and likely low cost or the ORB means it could potentially become a standard feature inside desktop PCs, unlike UPS units which are bulky and expensive.

The prototype cells measure 55x43x4mm, which is about the same size a stack of 3 credit cards. Each cell weighs 20 grams.

The ORB has other advantages over current rechargeable battery technologies too, Satoh said. It's able to maintain an almost constant voltage during discharge and also loses its ability to be fully charged at a much slower rate than competitors.

The battery can also be charged very fast. With enough current supplied the battery can be charged to about 80 percent of its capacity in just one minute, which could make it suitable for wireless applications where fast charging is advantageous, said Satoh.

Another advantage that comes from its close structure to Lithium Ion is that the manufacturing process is very similar, so mass production, when or if it occurs, could likely be done on existing battery production lines with only minor adjustments.

Some more work remains on fine-tuning the ORB and NEC plans to also spend the next two to three years working on possible uses for the technology as it moves towards possible commercialisation.

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