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First nonflammable lithium-ion battery produced

The first nonflammable lithium-ion battery has been developed by chemist Joseph DeSimone at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Nitash Balsara, faculty senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, according to their report in the Feb. 10, 2014, issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

NTSB photos of the burned auxiliary power unit battery from a JAL Boeing 787 that caught fire on Jan. 7, 2013, at Boston's Logan International Airport.
National Transportation Safety Board As a work of the U. S. federal government the image is in the public domain.

Lithium-ion batteries are ubiquitous in modern times and are used in electronic devices from phones to aircraft. The inherent problem with lithium-ion batteries is that overcharging can produce fires in the electrolyte.

In a somewhat serendipitous discovery, the researchers have found that perfluoropolyether (PFPE) is a suitable substitute for the electrolyte solution in lithium-ion batteries that does not have the problem with fire. The researchers were looking for a material that would prevent marine life from sticking to the hulls of ships when they discovered the new electrolyte worked in batteries. An added advantage of the new electrolyte is the ability to use a battery in very cold environments like the ocean and space.

The next generation of lithium-ion batteries will have different materials for the electrodes and will be flame proof. The researchers are in the process of refining the technology to be compatible with the speed of transfer of ions that is seen in present lithium-ion technology.

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