As much as we may love our electronic gadgets, most of us are less than enamoured of the batteries that power those phones, music players, cameras and computers. It’s not uncommon to replace the battery several times before the device has served out its useful life. Along with expense and inconvenience, too many of those batteries are not properly recycled, and they wind up causing significant pollution problems.

Boston-Power, led by its Swedish founder, Dr. Christina Lampe-Önnerud, aims to be a leading player in a new wave of “green” batteries that improve technical performance and cut environmental impacts at the same time.

Power vs. safety

Lithium-ion batteries were invented in the 1970s. With their high energy-to-weight ratio, low self-discharge rate and superior performance in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, they quickly took market share from alkaline and zinc-carbon batteries as the preferred power source for small electronic devices. However, lithium is a highly reactive metal, and under certain conditions these batteries can emit combustible gasses, catch fire or even explode. Safety mechanisms are built into lithium-ion batteries sold commercially, but these increase size and weight and they can cause the batteries to fail prematurely. Also, safety concerns meant that the older generation of lithium-ion batteries could not be very large.

Boston-Power, based in Massachusetts, USA, has dramatically reduced the limitations of lithium-ion batteries with a variety of chemical and technical innovations. The company’s first product is a laptop computer battery called Sonata, designed to keep working through 1000 charging cycles – compared to about 300 cycles delivered by traditional batteries. In addition, Sonata charges much more quickly than its older cousins.

By the time it’s three years old, a cell phone, laptop or PDA is usually about ready for recycling. Other lithium-ion batteries will have already been replaced three to five times, but Sonata promises to last as long as the devices it’s designed to power. That adds up to more efficient use of materials and a little less techno-junk to take care of. Sonata uses no heavy metals or PVC plastics, and the battery has been awarded the Nordic Swan ecolabel in Europe and environmental certification by the China Environmental United Certification Centre.

Because it uses fewer chemical compounds and includes overlapping containment and control systems, Sonata can be used in more demanding environments and is able to withstand mechanical and electrical stress better than the previous generation of lithium-ion batteries.

Hewlett-Packard orders Sonata

Dr. Christina Lampe-Önnerud, who holds a PhD in inorganic chemistry from Sweden’s Uppsala University, founded Boston-Power in 2005.

Dr. Christina Lampe-Önnerud, who holds a PhD in inorganic chemistry from Sweden’s Uppsala University, founded Boston-Power in 2005.

The combination of improved performance and an appealing green profile has won Boston-Power a major order from the American computer maker Hewlett-Packard. Beginning in 2009, HP will offer Sonata – under it’s own product name Enviro – to users of its laptop computers. Christina Lampe-Önnerud says other personal electronics manufacturers are interested, and the company has recently opened a laboratory devoted to developing batteries for hybrid vehicles and other “large-format” systems.

“We have a battery that has shown remarkable performance criteria that I think the auto industry would welcome very, very much,” Ms. Lampe-Önnerud told the New York Times. “In fact, we see quite a bit of interest from the automotive industry.”

Published in March 2009