Broadly used lithium batteries getting safer

Scientists at the University of Stanford have found a way to make lithium batteries safer. So far, these batteries have a small chance of exploding or catching fire when they are internally damaged. Inside a lithium battery, the ions flow through a porous polymer separator, from the anode side to the cathode side creating electrical current due to electrolysis. If for example tiny metallic elements or dust particles are caught inside the battery during its manufacturing, they could eventually tear the polymer separator inside the battery and cause a short circuit. In other circumstances, if the battery is charged too quickly during manufacturing or if it’s used at unusual low temperatures, a phenomenon known as overcharge, the battery can short out, heat up and burst into flames. When overcharging occurs, lithium ions get stuck on the anode and pile up, forming chains of lithium metal, called dendrites, that can grow up towards the porous separator and reach the cathode. This contact causes the battery to short out and sooner or later to explode.

Lithium batteries are currently used in small electronic devices, like cell phones or computers. They are also used in packs in bigger devices, such as airplanes. Cars are getting equipped with more and more batteries for their on-board electronic systems. The scientists at the University of Stanford have found a way to warn the operator or user when a battery is about to short out and luckily, this new technology can be extended to aluminium, zinc and other types of metal batteries.

The Stanford team of researchers, led by Professor Yi Cui, developed an efficient and elegant method consisting in the deposition of a nanolayer of copper on one of the sides of the polymer separator that warns the user when the dendrites have reached the middle of the battery and that it needs to be changed. When this technology is used and if it becomes standardised, it will for sure prevent the destruction of valuable equipment and save even more valuable lives.


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