Lithium-ion Batteries: Could New Research Mean Fewer Fires?

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are used to power all kinds of devices from smartwatches, to power banks, and even electric vehicles. But there’s one big problem with Li-ion batteries — they are prone to catching fire when they get too hot.

You likely know someone who has had a power bank, a vape, or another Li-ion-powered device set on fire. However, recent research developments could implement new safety features to shut down the battery before it gets too hot, reducing the risk of any fires as a result of overheating. That would make them safer on public transport, and people would feel (and would be) safer using them.

So, what’s new? Researchers discovered that using a thermally-responsive shape memory polymer — covered with a copper spray — creates a material that transmits electrons, but can also turn into an insulator to dissipate heat and prevent overheating. 

If this were to be implemented for newer Li-ion batteries, this would drastically improve safety — without compromising quality.

This blog post will explain more on Li-ion batteries, including how they work, more on the latest research, and then a quick FAQ. 

How do lithium-ion batteries work?

Let’s strip it back to the basics — a battery is made up of several components:

  • Anode — negative electrode that stores the lithium and releases electrons to the external circuit. 
  • Cathode — positively charged electrons used in chemical cells.
  • Separator — the ions travel through the separator.
  • Electrolyte — carries positively charged ions from the anode to the cathode. 

The electrical current travels through the device, such as your phone, to a negative collector. Also, the separator has another role — it blocks electrons from moving inside the Li-ion battery.

This is the main way most batteries work — including Li-ion batteries. Understanding this allows us to better grasp the developments and research surrounding these batteries.

So, what does new research have to say?

Okay, we’ve already provided a quick whistle stop tour of how batteries work, but how has new research changed the design method to result in fewer fires?

As electrons are needed to transmit energy, a new material — a thermally-responsive shape memory polymer with a conductive copper spray — this ensures the electrons can transmit energy most of the time. However, unlike regular batteries, the material can turn into an insulator when exposed to excessive heat. This means the battery is not only less likely to get too hot, but should not result in fires.

The copper layer is responsible for stopping the flow of electrons, shutting down the cell, and preventing the device from exploding or starting a fire. So, how does it compare to traditional Li-ion batteries? Well, they should perform on an equal level — but supposedly, they are much safer across the board.

To summarize 

The main issue with Li-ion batteries is that they are prone to overheating. In many instances, these have exploded and caught fire. This poses a serious risk not only to those using Li-ion-powered devices, but also those in close vicinity.   

Many airlines limit the number of batteries you can take on planes, and limit the maximum size of lithium batteries and power banks you can bring with you. Most airlines do not allow power banks in checked luggage as if a fire were to occur; it’s much less likely to be noticed and more difficult to extinguish.

Usually, you can bring a regular-sized power bank with you, but this must be in your hand or carry-on luggage. Even still, there have been incidents of power banks exploding on flights. So hopefully, new research could eliminate this from happening altogether.


What are the disadvantages of a lithium-ion battery?

Li-ion batteries gradually lose capacity over time — this means they store less charge and have an increased risk of failure. Furthermore, as you likely already know, they can overheat and cause fires.

What is a lithium-ion battery used for?

Li-ion batteries power everything from portable power banks to electric vehicles, e-bikes, laptops, and even some smartphones.

Why are lithium batteries a problem?

The main issue with lithium batteries is they are prone to overheating. In some cases, this can result in fires, creating a dangerous situation. It’s why you can’t bring certain-size batteries on planes and why you should always bring li-ion batteries in your carry-on luggage on a plane.

How long do lithium-ion batteries last?

Lithium-ion batteries typically last hundred of charges, lasting anywhere from two to three years with plenty of use.

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