Research breakthrough means safer batteries

IFM researchers have successfully made solid state batteries which remove the risk of batteries catching fire or exploding.

Dr Fangfang Chen and Dr Xiaoen Wang say their discovery means that lithium-ion batteries found in everyday items like mobile phones, computers and vehicles would no longer pose a fire risk because the highly volatile liquid electrolyte currently used in them could be replaced with a solid polymer material.

The work provides a basis for improving batteries in terms of both safety and performance. Their new electrolyte allows the use of a lithium metal anode, which could see future batteries last twice as long as they currently do with one charge. Alternatively, batteries could end up half of their size and weight without compromising performance time.

The findings could also change the way batteries are handled in everyday life, where, for example, battery reliant devices could be safely packed in aeroplane baggage, and electric cars no longer posed a fire risk.

The researchers used existing commercial polymer materials to create the new process, meaning the formulation could be applied commercially with little difficulty. Although polymers have been used as battery conductors for more than 50 years, the IFM team is the first to use existing commercial polymers in an improved way.

They achieved the result by weakly bonding the lithium ion with polymer to create a solid polymer electrolyte. So far they have proven the process in coin cell batteries, similar to a watch battery size, with the next step being to scale up the batteries to bigger applications – such as for a mobile phone.

The research has been published in the journal Joule.

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