Explained: Scientists announce Li-ion battery that ‘won’t catch fire’ — how will it work

Stanley Whittingham, John Goodenough and Akira Yoshino have been awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing the lithium-ion battery.

Lithium-ion batteries are vulnerable to fire and explosion, which often happens without warning. This is because they are built with flammable and combustible materials. Now, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory has developed a Lithium-ion battery that will not catch fire, Johns Hopkins University has announced.

The research, published recently in the journal Chemical Communications, was led by Konstantinos Gerasopoulos of APL's Research and Exploratory Development Department,

How it works

The team has announced the discovery of a new class of "water-in-salt" and "water-in-bisalt" electrolytes—referred to as WiS and WiBS, respectively. The University news release said that this new class of electrolytes, when incorporated in a polymer matrix, reduces water activity and elevates the battery's energy capabilities and life cycle while ridding it of the flammable, toxic, and highly reactive solvents present in current Li-ion batteries. It's a safe, powerful alternative, the researchers say.

"Our team's efforts have generally been focused on replacing the flammable liquid with a polymer that improves safety and form factor. We are excited about where we are today. Our recent paper shows improved usability and performance of water-based flexible polymer Li-ion batteries that can be built and operated in open air," Gerasopoulos is quoted as saying on the university website.

Why it matters

Li-ion batteries have emerged as the energy storage vehicle of choice for portable electronics, electric vehicles, and grid storage. These safety advancements, the university release, mark a significant step forward in transforming the way Li-ion batteries are manufactured and used in electronic devices.

"Li-ion batteries are already a constant presence in our daily lives, from our phones to our cars, and continuing to improve their safety is paramount to further advancing energy storage technology," said Gerasopoulos "Li-ion battery form factors have not changed much since their commercialization in the early 1990s; we still use the same cylindrical or prismatic cell types. The liquid electrolyte and required hermetic packaging have a lot to do with that.”

"Our team is continuously improving the safety and performance of flexible Li-ion batteries," Jeff Maranchi, the program area manager for materials science at APL, was quoted as saying. "We have already achieved further discoveries building upon this most-recently reported work that we are very excited about. We hope to transition this new research to prototyping within the year."