Scientists unveil explosion-free lithium-ion batteries

"Now, we are showing that you can simultaneously have access to both high energy and high safety," electrochemist Kang Xu said.
By Brooks Hays   |   Sept. 6, 2017 at 3:42 PM
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Sept. 6 (UPI) -- YouTube videos of exploding phones and hover boards have highlighted the risks of powering devices with lithium-ion batteries. But researchers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the University of Maryland have come up with a solution -- a water-based solution.

Scientists have developed a batter that uses a water-salt solution as the electrolyte medium. The electrolyte helps ferry lithium ions between the battery's cathode and anode, allowing for the loading and unloading of electric energy.

Using the new solution, researchers were able to generate a charge of 4 volts, sufficient to power most household electronics. The batter generates the charge without risk of explosion or fire.

"The batteries will remain safe -- without fire and explosion -- even under severe mechanical abuses," Dr. Kang Xu, an electrochemist at Maryland, said in a news release.

Previous batteries forced engineers to choose between power and safety. Those who put safety at a premium were forced to settle for a less-powerful nickel-metal hydride battery.

"Now, we are showing that you can simultaneously have access to both high energy and high safety," Xu said.

Previous attempts to build batteries with aqueous electrolytes have been hampered by the "cathodic challenge," the degradation of the graphite or lithium metal cathode by the water solution.

Researchers addressed the challenge by applying a gel polymer electrolyte coating to the cathode. Upon the initial charge, the gel breaks down, forming a protective interface that keeps the water solution from damaging the cathode, while still enabling the flow of ions.

"The key innovation here is making the right gel that can block water contact with the anode so that the water doesn't decompose and can also form the right interphase to support high battery performance," said Maryland engineer Chunsheng Wang.

The innovation boosted the battery's energy potential from three to four volts, opening up a range of new commercial applications.

Researchers detailed their breakthrough in a new paper published this week in the journal Joule.

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