Kevlar could keep lithium-ion batteries from catching fire

Researchers have found that Kevlar extracts in batteries could prevent batteries from shorting

Lithium-ion batteries are relatively safe but can still pose risks of fire or explosion. Researchers may now have solved that problem using a material commonly found in bullet proof vests.

The researchers are using a material derived from Kevlar to insulate parts of the battery responsible for the storage and discharge of energy. Leaks in that wall can cause short circuits, so preventing those them greatly reduces the risk of fire.

The batteries will be used first in robots and for military applications, but after that they'll come to laptops, tablets, smartphones, electric cars and other electronics, said Dan VanderLey, CIO and co-founder of Elegus Technologies, a startup that's commercializing the technology for scientists at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Over the years, millions of laptops and other gadgets from Dell, Lenovo, Sony and others have had to be recalled because of fire risk. In a handful of cases, smartphones and other devices have caught fire and exploded. And lithium-ion batteries caused problems in the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Lithium-ion batteries have two electrodes and an electrolyte fluid that allows the lithium ions to flow between them. They're separated currently by a film of polyethylene or polypropylene, but it's porous and if material passes through it a short circuit can result.

The scientists are using a nanofiber material made from Kevlar to separate the cathode and the anode. It's more dense than current separators and will prevent the leaks that can lead to short circuits. The researchers make the nanofiber by dissolving it in a proprietary chemical formula.

Aside from reducing fire risk, the new separator material could increase the energy density and lifetime of batteries, according to VanderLey. It can be used in any lithium battery type, including lithium-ion, lithium-air, lithium-polymer or other chemistries. It also works with a wide variety of liquid and solid electrolytes.

The researchers are developing only the separator, and it will be up to battery makers to use the technology. Elegus has shipped samples to manufacturers and hopes they'll be able to start production late next year.

One snag is that Kevlar is that it's expensive, and the consumer electronics industry doesn't like high costs. Silver-zinc batteries, for instance, never broke through in laptops because of the cost of silver.

But VanderLey dismissed such concerns. A smartphone maker may have to spend 10 or 15 cents more per handset, but it would also be able to make thinner, lighter handsets and get 10 to 20 percent better energy density.

"Because we can produce thinner materials, it lowers material costs," VanderLey said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags ComponentsBatteries / fuel cellsUniversity of Michigan

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?