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Lithium-ion batteries have been linked with a number of explosions in recent years. Manufacturers love them because they pack a lot of power into a small space, but even the slightest design flaw can leave them vulnerable to short-circuiting, overheating, and explosions. Cell phones, e-cigarettes, headphones, and hoverboards are just a few of the products that have allegedly caused serious injuries because of lithium-ion battery explosions.

Now, researchers at the University of Maryland and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory have developed a new lithium-ion battery that is supposed to be much more resistant to overheating.

Newly Designed Battery Looks to be Safer than Current Models

Though lithium-ion batteries are quite reliable on the whole—as evidenced by the sheer number of them being used in products today—they can create a disaster if manufacturers take shortcuts. A production or manufacturing flaw, a lack of proper insulation, inadequate ventilation, and more can all create a risky battery.

The other problem is that ions are exchanged between the positive and negative electrodes through a flammable conductive liquid. That means if the battery overheats, the liquid can catch fire. The new battery has a water-based conductive liquid that is not flammable.

The “4-V aqueous” lithium-ion battery, which was featured in the September 6, 2017 issue of Joule, uses a water-salt solution as the electrolyte and reaches the 4.0 volt mark necessary for household electronics without the fire and explosive risks typically associated with these batteries.

The key to the improved safety profile is the gel. Co-senior author Chunsheng Wang, Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering, noted that the right gel supports high battery performance while boosting safety. Water-based electrolytes are likely to be much safer than the highly flammable organic solvents typically used in lithium-ion batteries.

Even if this new battery is damaged, which can increase the risk of explosion in regular lithium-ion batteries, there is a slower reaction that prevents the smoking, fire, and explosion that could otherwise occur.

Newly Designed Battery Looks to be Safer than Current Models

The new battery isn’t quite ready for prime time yet. The researchers stated that the power and energy density are there, but they’d like to increase the number of full-performance cycles the battery can complete. Right now, it can do about 50-100 cycles, but researchers want to get it to 500 or more. Still, the future looks bright.

Because of its unique design, the battery can be even lighter than current versions. Manufacturers will thus be able to remove some of the safety control components that are currently adding some weight. The product is still in development, however, so it will be some time before it actually ends up on the market.

Meanwhile, individuals who have been injured by an explosive lithium-ion battery may be eligible to recover damages in court.

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