Not one to be left behind by Panasonic, General Electric, Siemens and the other corporate giants working to build a better battery, Hitachi claimed today that it has developed a method to make lithium-ion batteries last twice as long as the current models on the market — a change that could have a major impact on plug-in cars and portable electronics.
Not much is known about the new technology, except that it allows the manganese cathodes contained within battery cells to last much longer than they usually do. Hitachi says their lives can be extended to 10 years before they need to be replaced. Can you imagine the batteries inside your laptops or iPods lasting a decade?
Smaller electronics are not the primary target for this technology, however. The Japanese electronics giant says it hopes the new batteries will be used for big industrial applications, like grid-scale storage. It gave the example of storing power generated by wind turbines. It will compete directly with Panasonic in this arena.
The new battery structure also reduces the amount of cobalt needed, making it cheaper to manufacture. Right now, storage for renewable sources of energy like solar and wind is proving prohibitively expensive. But neither of these sources will become major energy providers without reliable storage. They are too intermittent as is. If Hitachi can build more affordable energy storage systems, this barrier will start to break down.
The company has yet to mention any automotive applications for its new lithium-ion battery technology, but it seems like a fair assumption that it will happen. Companies building next generation electric and hybrid cars are becoming major battery consumers, signing supply deals with the likes of A123Systems, Johnson Controls-Saft and Valence Technologies. Even Panasonic has a similar contract with Tesla Motors. If Hitachi wants to compete in the advanced battery industry, it will make sure its batteries find their way into cars soon.