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Lithium-ion battery beater to debut in 'major' laptop release

ZPower's silver-zinc tech finally coming to market?

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Left-field battery developer ZPower has signed up a "major notebook computer" manufacturer, which will release a laptop fitted with its silver-zinc power packs next year.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, ZPower isn't saying who it is. Still, it's a coup for ZPower, which has been trying to persuade the world for a few years now that it has a better rechargeable battery solution that lithium-ion.

Its central pitch is that its technology delivers power for longer than a same-size lithium-ion battery will, and that it does so in a form not only more eco-friendly but one that has no risk of spontaneous combustion too.

ZPower's projections have silver-zinc beating lithium-ion energy density by 30-40 per cent, a lead it claims can only increase over time as silver-zinc technology continues to evolve.

The basic structure of the cell sandwiches a separator between composite polymer zinc anode and a silver cathode. The battery contains water, so it's not inflammable, and there's no lithium present. ZPower says its cells don't need all the thermal regulation circuitry that lithium-ion batteries do to prevent them from overheating.

Silver-zinc batteries have been tried before, but past designs suffered from short-circuits as tree-like structures called dendrites form on the anode over time. This distorts the shape of the anode, pushing it through the separation layer to make contact with the cathode. Result: no power.

ZPower says the polymers in its anode structure inhibit dendrite formation, significantly minimising the risk of the short circuit.

And the green angle? The company maintains that 95 per cent of the key components of a silver-zinc battery can be recycled and used to make new batteries. Recycled parts, it says, are just as good as fresh ones.

Maybe, but lithium-ion battery production dwarfs anything ZPower can output, and the technology is priced accordingly. The spate of notebook fires from 2006 have done nothing to dampen gadget maker's reliance on the technology.

Silver-zinc may be better, but it's not yet proven in the field. Which is why ZPower's mysterious design win is so important. In the past, it has said it's "working with Tier One notebook computer and cell phone manufacturers", but that has largely centred on technology evaluation. This time, we're going to see silver-zinc in a real product. Could this be the event that puts the technology on the map?

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