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Inventors race to breathe extra life into batteries
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In the 20th century, heavy but long-lasting lead-acid batteries were developed for vehicles, while portable yet disposable alkaline batteries were commercialised for torches, smoke detectors and almost everything else.

Improvements to rechargeable lithium-ion batteries appear to have the most promise, at least right now. These batteries, used in most consumer electronics, including mobile phones and iPads, have a limited life span and charge capacity. But researchers say they can be made tremendously more efficient and long-lasting.

Researchers at the University of Texas developed the first lithium-ion rechargeable battery in the early 1980s,

And while today's lithium-ion batteries last longer than older nickel-metal-hydride rechargeables, some experts say there's plenty of room for improvement.

"Lithium-ion is only at the halfway point of what's theoretically possible," said Dane Boysen, director of the US Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy battery program, which has awarded $US36 million to 10 projects since 2010. One of the grantees, Envia Systems of Newark, California, said in February that it could now more than double the power stored in its rechargeable lithium-ion battery, thanks to its new manganese-based cathode and silicon-carbon anode. The claim was verified by the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana, a federal lab that evaluates engineering and electronics projects for the Pentagon.

General Motors has an agreement with Envia to use its new advanced lithium-ion battery for the Chevy Volt in the next two to three years. Boysen says the technology could make its way further into the consumer market relatively quickly, allowing laptops to run for 12 hours straight instead of six hours as is common now, for example.
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