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Scientists roll safer Li-ion batteries

Posted: 17 Apr 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:battery recalls  safety risk  Li-ion batteries 

Mobile devices like cell phones and laptops have become dependent on the use of Li-ion batteries, but their safety has been in question due to the number of fire incidents they have caused in recent years. The possibility of manufacturing defects have led to high-profile battery recalls initiated by companies like Apple, Dell, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and Sony.

In 2004, a California teen was injured when her Kyocera phone battery burst into flames.

In February, an engineer with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Douglas Lee, wrote a letter to the American Society for Testing and Materials seeking to establish a working group to address the safety risks of Li-ion batteries in children's toys. He said that in the past few months, the CPSC had seen an increase in the number of incidents involving high-energy batteries in toys, including overheating, venting, smoking, explosion and ignition of battery packs.

Now scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC in Wurzburg, Germany, have found a way to create energy-dense Li-ion batteries without the use of flammable organic electrolytes.

"We have succeeded in replacing the inflammable organic electrolytes with a non-flammable polymer that retains its shape," says ISC team leader Kai-Christian Möller, in a statement. "This considerably enhances the safety of Li-ion batteries. What's more, because it is a solid substance, the electrolyte cannot leak out of the battery."

Normally, dense polymers offer poor electrical conductivity, but the Ormocer polymer used allowed the Fraunhofer scientists maintain conductivity.

Though the researchers have a working prototype, Möller expects it will be three to five years before these non-flammable batteries become commercially available because further work needs to be done to improve conductivity.

- Thomas Claburn


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