Sunday, 22 July 2012

GE Builds a Better Battery
11 Jul 2012

What does it take to launch a better battery? Makers of electric vehicles, smartphones, and renewable energy gear want to know. For a 45 person internal startup at General Electric Co (GE), it took the financial backing and technical support of an AAA-rated company with more than $140 billion in annual revenue, not to mention the care and attention of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt. It also helped that the team chose a proven battery design that had been under development for 30 years before GE got involved. The result is the Durathon, a molten salt battery that went on sale in September 2011, providing backup power for cell phone towers, among other uses.

There are plenty of ideas for new batteries; the problem is commercialising them. Today's cars still rely on lead-acid batteries that date back to experiments done in 1859, while consumer electronics are powered by alkaline batteries that trace their roots to 1899. Innovators come along regularly, but in the past year a slew of battery startups have hit rough patches. Ener1, which was pledged $118 million of federal aid to develop lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, filed for bankruptcy in January. Battery maker A123 Systems (AONE) of Waltham, Mass., lost $125 million in the first quarter. At a US Department of Energy conference in February that showcased new battery concepts, Microsoft (MSFT) Chairman Bill Gates warned that "the failure rates here are going to be well over 90%".

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