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Panasonic introduces a new battery that lasts longer

WASHINGTON—Disaster can strike anywhere, anytime: You recline your chair, close your eyes, put on your headphones. And then it happens.

The batteries die. Again.

Enter Oxyride, Panasonic's new disposable battery. The maker claims it's the greatest thing since, well, the alkaline battery. For MP3 players, LED flashlights, portable TVs, Game Boys, digital cameras and other devices that use a lot of power fast, it's a real improvement.

Panasonic's suggested retail price for a four-pack of Oxyride Extreme Power batteries is $3.99, the same as a four-pack of Duracell CopperTops at CVS this week.

The battery, now arriving at stores nationwide, lasts up to twice as long as an alkaline battery, according to Panasonic. Company officials and competitors agree that it isn't as economical or as environmentally friendly as rechargeable batteries, however.

Brian Kimberlin, the director of marketing for Secaucus, N.J.-based Panasonic Battery Group, said it was high time to replace the 40-year-old alkaline battery.

"What we heard from the consumer ... was that there are so many electronics being introduced each year, and they couldn't understand why it took so long to get a better battery," he said.

The Oxyride yields 1.7 volts of electric power, compared with 1.5 volts for the alkaline battery, thanks to a new and repackaged form of oxy-nickel hydroxide, which releases more power.

"We can fit more juice inside, if you will," Kimberlin said.

The secret is using finer and more tightly packed particles of the substances that form the surface of the battery's electrode, the part of the battery that collects and conducts current. The greater the surface area of those substances—oxy-nickel hydroxide, manganese oxide and graphite—the greater the current generated. Because the electrode surfaces of Oxyride batteries have greater total surface area than alkaline batteries, they produce more current.

Kimberlin said the new battery could take at least twice as many photos on a digital camera, speed up the flash-recovery time on film cameras and propel remote-controlled toy cars faster.

Competitors aren't so sure, and even Panasonic admits the Oxyride won't work better than an alkaline battery on radios, remote controls, flashlights and toys that don't need the extra power.

Those uses are the bulk of the market for disposable batteries, said Michael Babiak, the technical manager of Energizer Holdings Inc., which has performed its own tests of the Oxyride.

For other uses, the Oxyride is good news, according to Paul Klatt, quality assurance engineer for Batteries Plus, the nation's largest battery chain. Klatt, too, tested Oxyride and thinks it's great for high-tech products. Panasonic's U.S. rivals aren't saying whether they'll come out with a similar battery but Sony researchers in Japan may be working on one, Klatt said.

Panasonic's battery debuted in Japan last year and now controls 20 percent of the market. Olympus cameras will use Oxyride batteries soon, according to Kimberlin. They're also likely to turn up in Panasonic's electronics line.

Panasonic currently ranks fourth in the $20 billion-a-year U.S. battery market, according to the Freedonia Group, which does market research. Duracell leads the pack, followed by Energizer and Rayovac.

While rechargeable batteries may be better in many ways, disposables are more convenient, Kimberlin said.

"In America, we always want the instant gratification," he said.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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