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A microchip designed to prevent potentially catastrophic failures of back-up power supplies is poised for commercial launch, according to its UK developer. The chip, produced by Guardian Link, will incorporate new battery-testing technology developed over five years in conjunction with UMIST.

Nigel Scott, the Manchester-based company’s managing director, said it could eventually radically improve the monitoring of battery status in a host of everyday electrical items such as laptop computers, as well as life-saving equipment such as defibrillators.

The technology at the heart of the chip can monitor the electrochemical parameters of individual battery cells and report their capacity by using frequency response analysis. A signal is fired through the cell under test to provoke a voltage response which can be recorded and measured.

Its first application will be an attempt to solve the problems associated with monitoring the large batteries used as a back-up power supply for critical installations such as telecoms networks, IT systems, hospitals and the emergency services. These are designed to engage within milliseconds if mains power is cut off. But hundreds fail each year due to the difficulty of testing the sealed valve-regulated lead acid batteries most commonly used to provide uninterruptable power supply.

‘They have proved to be very sensitive to environmental factors such as temperature, but nobody knows what’s going on inside them because they’re sealed,’ said Scott.

The only completely reliable way to assess their health is to disconnect, discharge and recharge them. This is expensive and can take more than a day, during which the user has no back-up to the mains supply.

Guardian Link said its chip could report problems instantly. It can also be used to manage the load of standby batteries more efficiently, which could increase their lifespan. The system works with any type of battery chemistry, allowing it to be used across a wide range of applications, said Scott.

Guardian Link believes the automotive sector could eventually be a major market for the chip, which would be used to monitor the condition of car batteries. ‘We are looking to adapt the chip for use in automotive applications, because so many systems in a modern car depend on the battery,’ said Scott. ‘It would monitor the battery and report on its health to the engine management system.’

Guardian Link is in discussions with electronics giant Atmel about producing a custom chip incorporating the technology, and hopes to market the device in six to eight months’ time.

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