One does not have to look hard to find incidents of lithium-ion batteries catching fire. Samsung is quite infamous for its exploding batteries whereas makers like Apple aren’t entirely immune to this problem as we recently saw a case of iPad almost exploding in a showroom.
Today lithium-ion batteries are used in all consumer electronics, but they can be quite dangerous. So researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University came up with a practical and inexpensive solution to prevent such incidents of fire.
Inspired by the weird behavior of a liquid that solidifies on impact, commonly known as ‘oobleck,’ the researchers decided to create a lithium-ion battery that hardens on impact.
Typically a lithium-ion battery cell contains two electrodes separated by a thin plastic sheet that is submerged in a liquid electrolyte. So if the plastic separator breaks due to impact, the electrodes can “touch” each other. This can lead to shorting of the battery, heating up and ultimately catching a fire.
The researchers decided to use a liquid electrolyte that would solidify on impact, stop electrodes from colliding, and eventually avoid ignition. They used perfectly spherical particles of silica sand instead of the plastic sheet.
Addition of silica is cheap and incorporating it in batteries won’t require any major changes in the battery manufacturing setup. Gabriel Vieth, the project lead, says that this method can be initially used in making drone batteries and can later spread on to the automotive market.
His team wants to create bigger versions of the battery for military purposes where soldiers need to carry heavy protective gears and batteries. These batteries could function as their armor due to its unique nature and lighten up their load by 20 pounds.