Exploding lithium-ion batteries have been one of the biggest problems in modern consumer technology. Many can still remember the battery explosions that transformed hoverboards into fire hazards a year ago, and the Galaxy Note 7 debacle of Samsung due to the smartphone's batteries catching fire is still not completely over.
Researchers from Stanford University, however, have come up with a solution to prevent lithium-ion batteries from catching fire and exploding.
Lithium-Ion Battery With Built-In Flame Suppression
The researchers have developed a lithium-ion battery that comes with built-in flame suppression. Once the battery reaches a certain dangerous temperate, it will release a flame retardant within that can extinguish any fire that might occur in just 0.4 seconds.
Making the technology even more impressive is the fact that the addition of the flame retardant within the lithium-ion battery does not affect its performance, which means that such batteries can be used without trade-offs such as lower capacities or slower charging times.
Why Do Lithium-Ion Batteries Catch Fire?
Lithium-ion batteries are the current choice for consumer devices because they are able to hold a significant amount of charge within small bodies, allowing them to power devices of all shapes and sizes. However, one of the major problems of lithium-ion batteries is that they are at risk of what is known as thermal runaway.
Thermal runaway refers to the exponential increase in heat, which lithium-ion batteries are prone to due to how they are designed. These batteries contain an anode and a cathode, and if these two primary electrodes would come into contact, thermal runaway will occur, leading to fire and an explosive battery.
To eliminate the problem of thermal runaway, the researchers replaced the polymer that separates the anode and the cathode. Polyethylene, the most commonly used plastic in the world, is the standard polymer used, but the researchers went with a new separator that contains fibrous threads with common flame retardant triphenyl phosphate within a shell made up of another polymer. The shell prevents the retardant from entering the battery's electrolyte, as that will affect the performance of the battery. Previous attempts to add flame retardants into lithium-ion batteries failed, as without this shell, the performance of the batteries were reduced.
When thermal runaway kicks in and starts heating up the battery to a certain temperature, 160 degrees Celsius in the demonstration by the researchers, the polymer shell melts, releasing the flame retardant into the electrolyte and extinguishing flames.
Will The Tech Be Already Used In Consumer Devices?
The results of the studies are promising and could completely eliminate the problem of exploding lithium-ion batteries. However, tests have only been so far conducted in a coin cell, and further experiments will need to be conducted to determine if the incorporation of a flame retardant within a lithium-ion battery is feasible for devices such as smartphones and even for electric cars.
The findings, however, are a welcome development in battery technology. According to HIS senior analyst Ian Fogg, the slow evolution of battery technology has hampered the quicker development of the technology that rely on lithium-ion batteries.
In the meantime, there are some ways on how you can protect yourself from exploding batteries.