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As it ventures into renewable energy, 3M (s MMM) is also making strides in its other energy business: batteries. The Minnesota-based manufacturer is already a primary supplier of cathode and anode materials to most of the world’s major battery suppliers and is credited with helping battery makers deliver a higher capacity lithium-ion battery to market.
But now 3M is working on a new material that can make lithium-ion batteries for such products as power tools, laptops and cars lighter. Here’s how it works: Because batteries are comprised of several cells, they typically require an electronic system to keep the cells balanced. “If one cell is doing more than another, you get a disbalance and then your battery won’t charge right,” explains Chris Milker, business manager at 3M.
3M’s new material allows this cell supervision to happen chemically instead of electronically, greatly reducing the weight and size of the battery. It’s called a “shuttle technology,” because the materials contains a chemical “shuttle” to help the cells remain balanced for longer and extend the life of the battery, according to Milker.
The company is currently qualifying its chemical shuttle technology for power tool batteries and plans to commercialize the technology in laptop batteries, cell phone batteries, and potentially automotive batteries within a year. If it works as well as 3M claims, we may see the company get in on a little large-scale storage battery action down the road, which would dovetail nicely with its solar and wind projects.