Just about all of the gadgets that we take for granted each day from cameras to our notebooks and mobile phones use lithium-ion batteries. These batteries have been around for many years and for the most part are trouble free.
However, last year and in 2007 a number of fires and explosions caused by overheating lithium-ion batteries resulted in some of the largest recalls in history. Companies including Sony and many other large computer manufacturers were forced to recall tens of thousands of lithium-ion batteries used in notebooks.
More recently, lithium-ion batteries in mobile phones like the popular iPhone from Apple have been allegedly overheating and exploding leading to claims of injuries to some users in Europe. Future batteries are looking to get away from Lithium-ion and move to other types of batteries like Zinc-air for several reasons. One key reason is that the Zinc-air battery promises to deliver much more runtime form a battery of roughly the same size as its lithium-ion counterpart.
However, batteries that are robust enough for use in the computer and mobile phone market using Zinc-air technology are still years away according to some researchers. Until then battery, manufacturers are looking for things that make lithium-ion batters last longer and have less chance to overheat and burn or explode.
Reuters reports that a new material being called Stoba has been invented by a team of researchers led by Alex Pang. Stoba is a material that sets between the positive and negative sides of a battery and can turn from a porous material into a film when temperatures inside the battery reach 130 degrees centigrade.
The fire hazard with Lithium-ion batteries happens when they battery develops an internal short that causes the battery to heat up to as much as 500 degrees centigrade leading to explosion or fire. The Stoba material would turn into a film at 130 degrees centigrade and stop the reaction.
Pang said, “We have introduced a totally new material to the battery.” Anytime you add new or more material to the battery, it will typically increase the cost to produce the battery. Pang estimates that Stoba will add only 2% to 3% to the cost of battery manufacture. Pang plans to try to sell the tech to notebook and mobile phone makers. Batteries using the material are expected to ship in 2010.
Adding the material to lithium-ion batteries could help manufacturers ease the restriction recently put into place on transporting the batteries. Reuters reports that the U.S. DOT has recently issued a new hazardous material notice for lithium-ion batteries.
The government said, “Many persons who ship lithium batteries do not recognize the hazards… fires in aircraft can result in catastrophic events presenting unique challenges not encountered in other transport modes.”
The fear of fires caused by overheating and exploding batteries on commercial flights has plagued the battery industry since the recalls of notebook batteries first started. Luckily, to date no serious battery related fires have occurred on aircraft and no severe injuries resulting from batteries fires or explosions have been reported.