Lithium primary and lithium ion secondary batteries provide high specific energy and energy density. The use of these batteries also helps to reduce launch weight. Both primary and secondary cells can be packaged as highrate cells, which can present a threat to crew and equipment in the event of external or internal short circuits. Overheating of the cell interior from high current flows induced by short circuits can result in exothermic reactions in lithium primary cells and fully charged lithium ion secondary cells. Venting of the cell case, ejection of cell components, and fire have been reported in both types of cells, resulting from abuse, cell imperfections, or faulty electronic control design.

A switch has been developed that consists of a thin layer of composite material made from nanoscale particles of nickel and Teflon that conducts electrons at room temperature and switches to an insulator at an elevated temperature, thus interrupting current flow to prevent thermal runaway caused by internal short circuits. The material is placed within the cell, as a thin layer incorporated within the anode and/or the cathode, to control excess currents from metal-to-metal or metal-to-carbon shorts that might result from cell crush or a manufacturing defect. The safety of high-rate cells is thus improved, preventing serious injury to personnel and sensitive equipment located near the battery. The use of recently available nanoscale particles of nickel and Teflon permits an improved, homogeneous material with the potential to be fine-tuned to a unique switch temperature, sufficiently below the onset of a catastrophic chemical reaction. The smaller particles also permit the formation of a thinner control film layer (<50 μm), which can be incorporated into commercial high-rate lithium primary and secondary cells.

The innovation permits incorporation in current lithium and lithium-ion cell designs with a minimal impact on cell weight and volume. The composite thermal switch (CTS™) coating can be incorporated in either the anode or cathode or both. The coating can be applied in a variety of different processes that permits incorporation in the cell and electrode manufacturing processes. The CTS responds quickly and halts current flow in the hottest parts of the cell first. The coating can be applied to metal foil and supplied as a cell component onto which the active electrode materials are coated.

This work was done by Robert McDonald, Shelly Brawn, Katherine Harrison, Shannon O’Toole, and Michael Moeller of Giner, Inc. for Glenn Research Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steven Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. LEW-18767-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from this issue here.

Read more articles from the archives here.