Lithium-ionLithium-ion batteries power a vast majority of the world’s portable electronics, but the magnification of recent safety incidents have some looking for new ways to keep battery-related hazards at bay. The U.S. Navy is one of those groups, with chemists in the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) unveiling a new battery, which they say is both safe and rechargeable for applications such as electric vehicles and ships.

“We keep having too many catastrophic news stories of lithium-ion batteries smoking, catching fire, exploding,” says Debra Rolison, head of NRL’s advanced electrochemical materials section and co-author of the recently published paper. “There’ve been military platforms that have suffered severe damage because of lithium-ion battery fires.”

Once example of such damage came in 2008, when an explosion and fire caused by a lithium-ion battery damaged the Advanced SEAL Delivery Vehicle 1 at its base in Pearl Harbor.

While generally safe when manufactured properly, lithium-ion batteries host an organic liquid which is flammable if the battery or device gets too hot.

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Lithium-ion

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has recently been in the headlines for safety concerns pertaining to its lithium-ion battery. Now, a lawsuit filed in California claims that the issues extend beyond the Note 7, and that many other generations of Samsung smartphones “pose a risk of overheating, fire, and explosion.”

While Samsung claims that the Li-ion safety issues are isolated to only the Note 7, researchers in the field of energy storage are still looking for a way to develop an efficient, non-combustible battery. CBS recently stopped by the University of Maryland to discuss just that with ECS member Erich Wachsman.

Watch the full CBS interview.

In an effort to build safer batteries, Wachsman and his group at the University of Maryland are focusing their research efforts on lithium conducting ceramic discs, which can handle thousands of degrees without any issues.

“Because it’s ceramic, it’s actually not flammable,” says Wachsman, director of the university’s Energy Research Center. “You cannot burn ceramic.”

(MORE: Listen to Wachsman discuss his work in water and sanitation.)

Since the rise of Li-ion battery safety in the news, Wachsman’s research has received more attention from industry. He and his group are currently working on scaling up the technology.

Electronic cigarettes have paved a path for smokers to get their nicotine fix in a safer way. However, with recent news reports of the devices exploding into bursts of flames, many consumers now wary of the safety concerns.

E-cigarettes are relatively simple devices. Powered by a battery, an internal heating element vaporizes the liquid solution in the cartridge. But for a New York teen, the process wasn’t as simple as he expected.

Anatomy of an e-cigarette

According to a report by USA Today, the teen pressed the button to activate his e-cigarette and it exploded in his hands like “a bomb went off.”

Investigators expect that the device’s lithium-ion battery malfunctioned. Li-ion batteries, however, are the driving force behind personal electronics, electric vehicles, and even have potential in large-scale grid storage. So why are devices like hoverboards and e-cigarettes experiencing such issues with Li-ion battery safety when so many other applications consider the energy dense, long-life battery a non-safety hazard?

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