FEB 10, 2017 10:14 AM PST

This New Battery Technology Doesn't Explode When Punctured

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

There is a pretty big problem with battery safety right now, particularly in the smartphone and mobile device market. Devices ranging from all manufacturers use Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) batteries because they are efficient and store enough power to keep a device running all day long; on the other hand, they can be quite dangerous too.

For the most part, you don’t see accidents with these batteries too often, unless they’re bent, cut, or punctured. Of course, in the case of Samsung, sometimes the batteries can flare up for absolutely no provoked reason, just because of a manufacturing defect. In fact, they were having so many problems with their batteries, that a container of discarded faulty batteries at one of the company’s factories in China caught on fire itself.

Just to show you the gravity of the situation, here's a demonstration of what happens when you puncture a Li-Ion battery:

So, since we know that Li-Ion batteries come with a very real danger of flaring up to extreme heats and causing potentially harmful fires, why haven’t we changed the battery technology that powers our gadgets and gizmos to something that’s a lot safer just yet?

The simple answer is: it’s complicated. A more informative answer is: we are having trouble finding a battery alternative that is as compact as Li-Ion and can still provide similar, or better, battery life at the same manufacturing cost. After all, the Li-Ion market is so flooded that the batteries are amazingly inexpensive to manufacture and/or replace, so they’re a smartphone’s best friend today.

On the other hand, a new battery technology is on the verge of development by professor and scientist by the name of Mike Zimmerman at Tufts University that can still power your smartphones, tablets, and perhaps a wide variety of other devices. The benefit of this battery, on the other hand, is that you can bend, cut, or puncture it and you won’t see fireworks, flashbangs, or smoke clouds.

The new plastic-polymer battery doesn't explode when mutilated, and continues to charge whatever it's powering.

Image Credit: NOVA PBS Official/YouTube

Perhaps the even more incredible part behind this magic is that the battery can still continue to power the devices it’s hooked up to even after being mutilated. Although the battery capacity has probably been reduced after being cut in half, it still offers a power source.

The new battery essentially replaces the harmful liquid electrolyte chemicals inside of the Li-Ion battery with far more stable plastic polymer materials, which are not only flame resistant, but are also flame retardant, which is a particularly good mix for the mobile device battery market.

The plastic polymer has the same properties of the liquid electrolyte in the Li-Ion battery that’s known for exploding, minus the flammable property. That said, it works just as good, if not better, for this unique purpose of allowing ions to pass through from one part of the battery to the other.

Now if you’re like me and you’re already lining up saying, “just take my money,” then you should probably know that the battery technology isn’t quite ready for the mass market just yet. This demonstration is very much just that; a demonstration. To actually mass-produce this battery, some big names in the industry would have to drop their production of the Li-Ion battery alternative and dedicate their work to the new battery technology instead, which would cost some decent coin.

Fortunately, however, it would seem that producing these kinds of batteries would be a cheap and efficient process; perhaps even cheaper than producing Li-Ion batteries, as it utilizes plastic polymer materials rather than other, more dangerous, materials that require more careful handling.

It is worth noting that many different kinds of battery technologies have been introduced over the years, but none of them have ever overtaken Li-Ion batteries as the main power source for our everyday devices. This might just be one of the first viable candidates that has the ability to be mass-produced within less than a decade and actually utilized in the public market.

Not only would the switch to safer batteries protect consumers, but it would also help protect the lives of the factory workers who work on the batteries all day long for a living, as they would be dealing with safer materials that are less likely to cause harm or death. Really, it’s a win/win for everyone and it's almost stupid that we haven't replaced this aging and dangerous battery technology yet.

Source: NOVA, PBS, Gizmodo

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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