Lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous, and usually very safe. However, cases have arisen where fatalities or injuries occurred when the batteries exploded. In other words, when things go wrong with lithium-ion batteries, catastrophes result.
Plus, lithium-ion batteries are used in tech devices more than ever, and that means the potential for issues goes up — especially as those batteries get crammed into progressively smaller builds where the components could overheat.
A company in California called Amionx realized, despite the relative safety of lithium-ion batteries, people still know what could happen and don’t entirely trust them.
So, the reasoning was that if lithium-ion batteries were safer due to a design that didn’t explode, individuals would feel more confident about using them, and the consequences that result from problems would be eliminated.
Amionx got its start when the Army commissioned it to make bulletproof batteries that soldiers could use while working with electronic gadgets.
However, the company now has a broader view of what’s possible. It believes that every new battery could contain a SafeCore layer, thereby opening up new options for using the batteries.
A Mysterious Coating Stops Explosions
Making Amionx’s technology work requires applying a coating of an undisclosed material as a layer inside the battery’s power cell. It’s black and took four years to develop. If the voltage becomes too high or the cell gets too hot, the layer shuts down the battery by severing the connection between its electrodes and the component of the battery that regulates how much electricity travels through the battery.
The team responsible for developing the coating — which is called SafeCore — says it works like a circuit breaker. SafeCore may not be the only mechanism inside a battery to stop explosions, but it could be the last line of defense, and one that’s proved exceptionally effective during tests. The coating works even if other safety measures inside the battery don’t activate or otherwise fail to work as intended.
More specifically, the layer, which is only one to five microns thick or less than the width of a human hair, decomposes when adverse events happen inside the battery. That reaction causes an air gap that breaks the necessary movement of electrons and makes electricity take a less direct path in the cell. Then, the battery cannot get dangerously hot or explode.
But Amionx representatives believe the layer they’ve made will do more than make lithium-ion batteries safer. It increases the capacity of the batteries by one to three percent and makes them last longer than batteries without the layer inside. Additionally, it’s possible to insert the SafeCore application process in existing battery manufacturing assembly lines without special equipment.
Side-By-Side Tests Prove the Worthiness
The engineers who developed this battery knew they couldn’t depend on lab experiments alone to ensure that the coating did as it claimed. Similar to how explosive devices undergo resistance testing with user-friendly, portable ohmmeters, these batteries got put to the test in the field.
The most dangerous part of that approach was how the testers subjected conventional batteries to a barrage of abuse first, then checked to see how the SafeCore batteries compared. The testing team, employed by tech publication CNET, used machines to crush and puncture standard batteries and ones with SafeCore layers.
Before the tests begin, the batteries got checked to ensure they had full charges. Then, a standard lithium-ion battery exploded within six seconds of getting a hole poked in it with a nail. The explosion happened in half the time when the battery got subjected to the crushing machine. But, the SafeCore battery tolerates both those things and merely got hot for ten minutes but didn’t reach a dangerous temperature.
Another test showed that the SafeCore battery handles getting shot. But, it’s worth pointing out that a second shot could cause problems since the shot made flammable liquid leak from a bullet hole. Another shot after the first one could create a spark that leads to a fire.
When Might This Technology Go Into Widespread Production?
Amionx is reportedly talking to several companies that may license the SafeCore coating for its batteries, but details have not yet emerged about brand names or timelines. However, members of the Amionx team reveal they’re hoping to have the technology ready for commercial use by late 2019.
Some people wonder about the coating scalability and say that if it doesn’t scale easily, that problem could pose issues. Plus, others say that if companies prioritize cost-effectiveness over safety, those entities won’t be motivated to use SafeCore regularly or even try it.
Despite those potential downsides, tests from CNET, and another bout of them by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), showed that the batteries perform as promised.
That feat is a groundbreaking achievement in the long-time quest for safer batteries.
Written by Kayla Matthews, Productivity Bytes.