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!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

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

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?