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Lithium batteries could soon be safer, thanks to a material inspired by gum


February 5, 2014

Yu Wang and Katie Zhong, with their gum-inspired electrolyte

Yu Wang and Katie Zhong, with their gum-inspired electrolyte

Although high-capacity lithium batteries make many of today's mobile electronics possible, they do have one flaw – they occasionally catch fire. This can happen when they overheat, and their liquid acid electrolyte ignites and leaks out. Now, however, scientists at Washington State University have created a gummy electrolyte material that could make such fires a thing of the past.

The conductive material was designed by graduate student Yu “Will” Wang, working under the supervision of Prof. Katie Zhong. It was inspired by chewing gum, although it's twice as sticky, which should allow it to cling well to the internal components of batteries. Previous research has looked into completely solid electrolytes, although there were problems getting them to stay in contact with the battery's anode and cathode.

Part liquid and part solid, the gum consists of particles of a solid material such as wax, mixed with a more traditional liquid electrolyte. As long as everything stays copacetic, ions can easily travel through the gum between the anode and cathode, creating electricity in the process. If the inside of the battery starts getting too hot, however, the wax will melt, severing the anode/cathode connection and shutting the process down.

Additionally, because the material is flexible and retains its conductivity even after being deformed, it might also find use in flexible electronic devices. For now, though, the next step in the research is to try incorporating it into traditional battery designs, and seeing how it performs under real-world conditions.

The university has filed a patent on the technology. The research was recently described in a paper published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials.

Source: Washington State University

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I think that is really great. It shuts down instead of setting the user of the device on fire or anything else in contact with the device.


Do we know if, after a shutdown, it will "restart" once the temperature gets back to normal?


How much of a power/mass or power/volume penalty does the battery take from having sizable quantities of inert substances in its electrolyte?

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