Scientists create non-flammable lithium-ion battery

Hannover (Germany) – Scientists in Germany have made a breakthrough in one of the biggest emerging markets in the battery industry: lithium-ion.

With the massive Sony battery recall last year and ever-growing concerns about lithium-ion-powered devices catching aflame, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC have created a solution.

“We have succeeded in replacing the inflammable organic electrolytes with a non-flammable polymer that retains its shape,” said ISC team leader Kai-Christian Moller.

Lithium-ion batteries are used in everything from TV remote controls to video game systems.    They are quickly replacing conventional alkaline batteries in electronic devices across the industry.  With a high power density and an easily rechargeable mold, it has become preferrable among manufacturers and consumers.

However, lithium-ion is a less stable substance than other standalone power sources, and as such overheating is a larger problem.  The organic electrolytes can burn and spark into flames because it is a flammable substance and sometimes not encased safely in product hardware.

The invention out of the ISC could be important because this concern essentially vanishes.

“This considerably enhances the safety of lithium-ion batteries. What’s more, because it is a solid substance, the electrolyte cannot leak out of the battery,” said Moller.

One of the obstacles ISC had to overcome, though, was that solid substances are by nature less conducive, so bringing the same level of power density and conductivity seen in current lithium-ion batteries was a trick.

Moller said it was able to get around this block by adjusting some of the basic fundamentals of lithium-ion.  “For example, we can use coupling elements with two, three or four arms. As a result, we have more possibilities,” he said.

ISC says it has already created a prototype of a non-flammable lithium-ion battery and will be displaying it at a German trade show later this month.  There is still research to be done, though, to further improve the technology’s effectiveness.

Scientists involved in the project say it will likely be three to five years before the new lithium-ion technology makes its way to consumer products.