Everyone who uses laptops or cell-phones these days is at least partially aware of the battery technology everybody uses in those devices. Lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries have literally changed the world of portable devices, making them lighter, while also extending useful battery life. They have become the most common type of battery used in consumer rechargeable devices.

Their drawbacks? They generate a lot of heat and are prone to catch fire or even explode in some instances. They are also not very environmentally friendly. Because of these drawbacks, at least one company saw an opportunity to create a safer, greener alternative.

The alternative comes in the form of silver-oxide or silver-zinc technology. Silver-zinc batteries can run up to 40% longer than the equivalent lithium-ion battery. Over 95% of the primary elements in the battery can be recycled. There are no heavy metals or toxic chemicals in modern silver-zinc batteries. Plus, their water-based chemistry make them free from the risk of thermal runaway, fire, and explosion. The primary drawback? Cost. These batteries will cost significantly more than equivalently-sized lithium-ion. Silver, after all, isn’t cheap.

There is little doubt that these batteries are a safer, greener, longer-running choice for laptops and cell-phones. With a little more development, their future looks very bright. The technology has the backing of some heavy hitters, as well. For example, Intel Capital has invested in a silver-zinc battery manufacturer named Zinc Matrix Power (ZMP). The only question seems to be, when will we see them in widespread use?

From my quick search on the web, it looks like several laptop manufacturers are in the process of examining silver-zinc batteries for use. ZMP claims at least one laptop maker already has designs in the queue with an eye toward introduction in their high-end laptops in mid 2009. Eventually, we may even see after-market, drop-in replacement batteries engineered to retrofit older laptops with this safer technology. Expect advertising to tout extended run times and the "green" aspects as major selling points, but also expect to pay a hefty premium for those features. Are the extra safety and green features worth the price? That’s for you to decide.

I’ll keep you posted as I find out more.


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