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Toshiba's Battery Breakthrough

Readers of Flash Gordon would be hard-pressed to find mention that during the heat of an epic galactic battle, our hero, Flash, retreated to a corner and changed the batteries of his supercharged laser-ray stun gun. Nor would a reader find that while fiddling to open the battery casing he broke his nail and, being momentarily distracted by this tragedy (it's a little-known fact that Flash prided himself on his personal hygiene), was overcome by the baddies and taken prisoner.

Why wouldn't avid followers of our superhero find such things? Well, for one, because Flash lived in a futuristic era that presumably had batteries with instantaneous recharging abilities.

We're in that futuristic era -- the 21st century -- and yet we are still changing batteries and taking hours to power up the rechargeable ones in our laptops. But, courtesy of nanotechnology, we are finally moving forward.

Last week, Toshiba made a breakthrough step toward the day of instantly recharging lithium-ion batteries. The company announced news of a prototype battery that can be 80% recharged in 60 seconds -- rather than the normal three or four hours -- and be fully charged in a "few minutes more." It also has a life cycle of 1,000 recharges before any degradation of performance.

The secret of the new battery is the addition of nanoparticles that, because of their size and unique properties, "prevent organic liquid electrolytes from reducing during battery recharging. The nanoparticles quickly absorb and store vast amount of lithium ions, without causing any deterioration in the electrode."

With a promised commercial launch in 2006, Toshiba is first targeting the new batteries for use in hybrid vehicles, where the immediate reward is highest. The technology, however, will work just as well in the mobile device market.

In a recent article, we cast doubt over the recent self-promotion of Altair Nanotechnologies' (Nasdaq: ALTI  ) battery breakthrough, and this development makes things look even trickier for the upstart start-up. Watch out for the other battery manufacturers to come up with their own breakthroughs. Sony, Sanyo, and Panasonic are world leaders in lithium-ion battery production, and each company has its own nanotech initiatives. Looking further down the road, NEC has already demonstrated fuel cells using carbon nanotubes to be the electrode material with the promise of vastly increased storage abilities, up to 10 times longer than traditional electrode materials.

Couple that with the nanoparticles for immediate recharge and we're beginning to see nanotechnology make good on its promise -- at least in battery technology.

Flash Gordon was a Rule Breaker, but that doesn't necessarily make his laser gun a good investment. Come and join Carl and John in their nanotechnology universe, where they hunt for the best Rule Breaker nanotech opportunities.Click herefor a risk-free 30-day trial to our ultimate growth service, Motley Fool Rule Breakers.

Neither Carl Wherrett nor John Yelovich owns shares in any companies mentioned in this article. You can reach Carl or John via email.The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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