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ORNL battery could power medical devices

Doctors who rely on tests that monitor brain activity of their patients could one day benefit from a new battery developed by the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and licensed to Teledyne Electronic Technologies.

The thin-film lithium battery offers many features that make it especially useful, particularly in applications with size constraints. Because the ORNL battery is thinner than plastic wrap and can be made in a variety of shapes and applied to different surfaces, it's ideal for many uses. One of those is as part of a system to amplify the brain impulses recorded for an electroencephalogram (EEG). Current EEGs rely on extremely low-level electric signals from the body, which sensors relay through wires to a machine that amplifies the signal.

"Motion and other environmental factors can distort and even drown out the signal," said Bob Steenberge, vice president of advanced development at Teledyne Electronic Technologies, one of 18 operating companies of Teledyne, a diversified manufacturing corporation with technology-based products and services with about 20,000 employees. "The technology we're developing puts the amplifier right at the source of the signal, making it clearer, and the lithium battery may provide just the power source we need to operate it."

This technology, being nurtured as part of a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) between ORNL and Teledyne, may later be applied to electrocardiograms (EKGs) and other medical diagnostic tools as well. In each case, the result should be clearer data that help physicians provide better care to their patients.

Teledyne has high expectations for the thin-film lithium battery, which can be charged and discharged many times, packs a lot of energy for its weight and volume and contains fewer toxic materials than other batteries. Company representatives are confident the battery, for which no production date has been set, will fulfill a number of needs in a variety of applications.

Part of that confidence results from the CRADA that pools the resources of ORNL and Teledyne.

"CRADAs are a very effective way of transferring technology developed at a DOE installation to industry and, in fact, for developing that technology further," said Dick David, director and chief scientist for Teledyne Electronic Technologies. "They are particularly valuable in cases where a technology, although promising, involves considerable risk in commercialization.

"A very good example of this type of situation is the CRADA between ORNL and Teledyne concerning the thin-film rechargeable lithium battery technology. This basic technology has very impressive potential, but many possible pitfalls exist on the road to commercialization. Teledyne would be reluctant to commit the necessary resources on its own to pursue this. The CRADA, however, makes the development activity quite attractive. Teledyne looks forward to continuing successful efforts with ORNL in this area."

William R. Martin, vice president of Technology Transfer for Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, which manages ORNL for DOE, agrees that the lithium battery holds considerable promise.

"We are convinced that the thin-film lithium battery has significant potential, not only in specialized medical diagnostic equipment, but also in an array of consumer products," Martin said. "Our work with Teledyne, a multifaceted company poised to bring this technology to the marketplace, is an example of how CRADAs deliver value to the American people."

Other likely applications for the battery include portable communication devices, where the battery could be built in as an integral part of the circuit, and as power sources for personal hazardous gas sensor cards and micromachines.

The battery, developed by a team led by John Bates of ORNL's Solid State Division, recently won DOE's Division of Materials Sciences Annual Award for Significant Implication for DOE-Related Technologies.

In addition to managing ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram national research and development facilities, Lockheed Martin Energy Systems also manages the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant and the Oak Ridge K-25 Site. Funding for the project was provided by DOE's Division of Materials Science, Division of Chemical Sciences, Office of Transportation Technologies and the Office of Energy Research Technology Transfer Program.

You can learn more about this research and many other exciting projects by visiting ORNL Oct. 21, during its Community Day event. Many of the lab's facilities will be open to the public that day. For additional information, call ORNL Public Affairs, (865) 574-4160.