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Zinc Matrix Power is one of several companies working on a safer alternative to conventional lithium-ion batteries. Although current lithium-ion electrolytes are flammable, 3M is developing nonflammable electrolytes for use with lithium-ion batteries. Other companies, such as Valence Technology (Austin, TX) and A123 Systems (Watertown, MA), are marketing batteries that use a phosphate material in one electrode, which is safer than the oxides typically used in lithium-ion batteries.

Donald Sadoway, professor of chemistry at MIT, is skeptical that a recycling program will be sufficient to keep down the costs of silver-zinc batteries. “The capital costs of this thing is going to kill you,” he says. Even the Navy, which has used the expensive silver-zinc technology, is funding his group to study advances in lithium-ion batteries, Sadoway says. If anyone has indeed found a way to make affordable, high-performance silver-zinc batteries, though, it could be “really good,” he says, adding that “remarkable claims require remarkable proof. And this sounds remarkable.”

But the reaction of Yet-Ming Chiang, a MIT materials scientist and a founder of battery-maker A123 Systems, to the recent Zinc Matrix announcement reflects the fast development of new battery technologies. “A competitor every day,” he says. “We’ll have to get used to it.”

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