NEC develops organic battery for IT use

Researchers at NEC Corp. 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, they said Thursday.

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 cell 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, said Masaharu Satoh, principal researcher and NEC’s energy device technology group in Tsukuba, Japan.

Chief among these is a high power density, which indicates how much power can be supplied for its size. 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, said Satoh.

One such application — providing enough power to allow a PC to backup data and shutdown properly in the event of a main power failure — has been used by Satoh and his 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, he said.

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 55 millimeters by 43 mm, are 4 mm thick, which is about the same size a stack of three 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 and so mass production, when or if it occurs, could likely be done on existing battery production lines with only minor adjustments, said Satoh.

Some more work remains on fine-tuning the ORB and NEC plans to also spend the next 2 to 3 years working on possible uses for the technology as it moves towards possible commercialization.

NEC began researching the technology in 2000 and its work has been partly funded by Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

Related links:

Transmeta, NEC partner on low-power chips

NEC developing network security analysis system

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