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4/11/2008
02:28 PM
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Flaming Batteries Could Be Extinguished Forever

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute have found a way to create energy-dense lithium-ion batteries without the use of flammable organic electrolytes.

Lithium-ion batteries, used in laptops, cell phones, and other devices, have played a role in a number of fires in recent years, and concerns about potential manufacturing defects have led to high-profile laptop battery recalls initiated by companies like Apple, Dell, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard, and Sony.

In 2004, a California teen was injured when her Kyocera phone battery burst into flames.

In February, an engineer with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Douglas Lee, wrote a letter to the American Society for Testing and Materials seeking to establish a working group to address the safety risks of lithium-ion batteries in children's toys. He said that in the past few months, the CPSC had seen an increase in the number of incidents involving high-energy batteries in toys, including overheating, venting, smoking, explosion, and ignition of battery packs.

Now scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC in Wurzburg, Germany, have found a way to create energy-dense lithium ion batteries without the use of flammable organic electrolytes.

"We have succeeded in replacing the inflammable organic electrolytes with a non-flammable polymer that retains its shape," says ISC team leader Dr. Kai-Christian Möller in a statement. "This considerably enhances the safety of lithium-ion batteries. What's more, because it is a solid substance, the electrolyte cannot leak out of the battery."

Normally, dense polymers offer poor electrical conductivity, but the Ormocer polymer used allowed the Fraunhofer scientists maintain conductivity.

Though the researchers have a working prototype, Möller expects it will be three to five years before these nonflammable batteries become commercially available because further work needs to be done to improve conductivity.

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