Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fuel Cell Breakthrough?

A123's fuel cells could lighten batteries by as much as 80% and boost hybrid car performance.

It's what drill-wielding DIYers have craved for ages: More power! And a new line of teeth-rattling 36-volt cordless saws, rotary hammers, and drills from DeWalt, a division of Black & Decker, finally delivers. The potent black-and-yellow beasts have twice the power of standard 18-volt tools and run for twice as long per charge. How? Each packs the M1 battery, a hand grenade of electrons that promises to transform mobile power.

The M1, based on the same lithium-ion technology used in your cell phone and laptop, is the first product from MIT spinoff A123 Systems. Cofounder Yet-Ming Chiang, a materials science professor, succeeded in shrinking to nanoscale the particles that coat the battery's electrodes and store and discharge energy. The results are electrifying: Power density doubles, peak energy jumps fivefold (the cells pack more punch than a standard 110-volt wall outlet), and recharging time plummets. Going nano also solves a safety problem. Regular high-capacity Li-ion batteries tend to explode under severe stress, like if they're dropped from a ladder.

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