The Safe Impact Resistant Electrolyte (SAFIRE) fire-resistant battery can be used in consumer electronics such as cellphones, in drones and cars, and in soldiers’ packs.
Lithium-ion batteries are notorious for bursting into flames when damaged or improperly packaged. In lithium-ion batteries, a thin piece of plastic separates the two electrodes. If the battery is damaged and the plastic layer fails, the electrodes can come into contact and cause the battery’s liquid electrolyte to catch fire. The SAFIRE battery design incorporates an additive into the conventional electrolyte to create an impact-resistant electrolyte that solidifies when hit, preventing the electrodes from touching if the battery is damaged during a fall or crash. If the electrodes don’t touch each other, the battery doesn’t catch fire. Incorporating the additive would require only minor adjustments to the conventional battery manufacturing process. The battery colloid consists of silica suspended in common liquid electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries. On impact, the silica particles clump together and block the flow of fluids and ions. Perfectly spherical, 200-nanometer-diameter particles of silica were used — essentially, a superfine sand.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge, TN
The researchers are seeking a patent on their technique.
Incidents involving lithium-ion batteries bursting into flames occasionally have grave consequences, including burns, house fires, and at least one plane crash. The SAFIRE design results in the electrolyte functioning as a safety feature of the battery and eliminating the risk of thermal runaway that leads to fire. The design can be enhanced so the part of the battery that’s damaged in a crash would remain solid, while the rest of the battery would go on working.