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Battery tech shrugs off thermal cycling
24 February 2016, Power Electronics / Power Management

Researchers at Stanford University have developed the first lithium-ion battery that shuts down before overheating, then restarts immediately when the temperature cools.

The new technology could prevent the kind of fires that have prompted recalls and bans on a wide range of battery-powered devices, from recliners and computers to navigation systems and hoverboards.

“People have tried different strategies to solve the problem of accidental fires in lithium-ion batteries,” said Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford. “We’ve designed the first battery that can be shut down and revived over repeated heating and cooling cycles without compromising performance.” Bao and her colleagues describe the new battery in a study published in the 11 January issue of the journal Nature Energy.

A typical lithium-ion battery consists of two electrodes and a liquid or gel electrolyte that carries charged particles between them. Puncturing, shorting or overcharging the battery generates heat. If the temperature reaches about 150°C, the electrolyte could catch fire and trigger an explosion.

Several techniques have been used to prevent battery fires, such as adding flame retardants to the electrolyte. In 2014, Stanford engineer Yi Cui created a smart battery that provides ample warning before it gets too hot. “Unfortunately, these techniques are irreversible, so the battery is no longer functional after it overheats,” said study co-author Cui, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and of photon science. “Clearly, in spite of the many efforts made thus far, battery safety remains an important concern and requires a new approach.”

Nanospikes

To address the problem, Cui, Bao and post-doctoral scholar Zheng Chen turned to nanotechnology. Bao recently invented a wearable sensor to monitor human body temperature. The sensor is made of a plastic material embedded with tiny particles of nickel with nanoscale spikes protruding from their surface. For the battery experiment, the researchers coated the spiky nickel particles with graphene, an atom-thick layer of carbon, and embedded the particles in a thin film of elastic polyethylene.

“We attached the polyethylene film to one of the battery electrodes so that an electric current could flow through it,” said Chen, lead author of the study. “To conduct electricity, the spiky particles have to physically touch one another. But during thermal expansion, polyethylene stretches. That causes the particles to spread apart, making the film non-conductive so that electricity can no longer flow through the battery.”

When the researchers heated the battery above 70°C, the polyethylene film quickly expanded like a balloon, causing the spiky particles to separate and the battery to shut down. But when the temperature dropped back down to the same temperature, the polyethylene shrank, the particles came back into contact, and the battery started generating electricity again.

“We can even tune the temperature higher or lower depending on how many particles we put in or what type of polymer materials we choose,” said Bao, who is also a professor, by courtesy, of chemistry and of materials science and engineering. “For example, we might want the battery to shut down at 50°C or 100°C.”

Reversible strategy

To test the stability of the new material, the researchers repeatedly applied heat to the battery with a hot-air gun. Each time, the battery shut down when it got too hot and quickly resumed operating when the temperature cooled. “Compared with previous approaches, our design provides a reliable, fast, reversible strategy that can achieve both high battery performance and improved safety,” Cui said. “This strategy holds great promise for practical battery applications.”


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Further reading:

  • Choosing the right SLA battery for the right job
    13 September 2017, Forbatt SA, Power Electronics / Power Management
    Not all batteries are created equal, and just as you would choose a suitable tyre for your car, it is important to choose a correct and suitable battery for your equipment or device.
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  • Boost converter for single cell batteries
    16 August 2017, Brabek, Power Electronics / Power Management
    The R-78S from Recom is a boost converter designed to run from single cell batteries. The input voltage range of 0,65 to 3,15 V means that alkaline, NiCd, NiMH, zinc-carbon or lithium chemistry cells ...
  • Synchronous step-down converter
    16 August 2017, Arrow Altech Distribution (AAD), Power Electronics / Power Management
    Analog Devices, which recently acquired Linear Technology Corporation, announced the LTC7001, a high speed, high side N-channel MOSFET driver that operates up to a 150 V supply voltage. Its internal charge ...
  • Synchronous buck regulator
    16 August 2017, Arrow Altech Distribution (AAD), Power Electronics / Power Management
    Analog Devices, which recently acquired Linear Technology, announced the LT8607, a 750 mA, 42 V input synchronous step-down switching regulator. A unique synchronous rectification topology delivers 93% ...
  • Programmable DC power supply
    16 August 2017, Accutronics, Power Electronics / Power Management
    TDK announced the introduction of the TDK-Lambda Genesys+ series of high power density programmable DC power supplies; the 5 kW, 1U model is the first in the series. Utilising digital signal processing ...
  • Inverter reference design using GaN
    19 July 2017, EBV Electrolink, Power Electronics / Power Management
    Texas Instruments introduced a three-phase, gallium nitride (GaN)-based inverter reference design that helps engineers build 200 V, 2 kW AC servo motor drives and next-generation industrial robotics with ...

 
 
         
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