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Gummy material addresses safety of lithium ion batteries

By Tina Hilding, College of Engineering and Architecture

Zhong-60PULLMAN, Wash. – A group of Washington State University researchers has developed a chewing gum-like battery material that could dramatically improve the safety of lithium ion batteries.

Graduate student Yu “Will” Wang (l) and WSU Prof. Katie Zhong

Graduate student Yu “Will” Wang (l) and WSU Prof. Katie Zhong

Led by Katie Zhong, Westinghouse Distinguished Professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the researchers recently reported on their work in the journal, Advanced Energy Materials. They have also filed a patent.

High performance lithium batteries are popular in everything from computers to airplanes because they are able to store a large amount of energy compared to other batteries. Their biggest potential risk, however, comes from the electrolyte in the battery, which is made of either a liquid or gel in all commercially available rechargeable lithium batteries. Electrolytes are the part of the battery that allow for the movement of ions between the anode and the cathode to create electricity. The liquid acid solutions can leak and even create a fire or chemical burn hazard.

While commercial battery makers have ways to address these safety concerns, such as adding temperature sensors or flame retardant additives, they “can’t solve the safety problem fundamentally,’’ says Zhong.

Zhong’s research group has developed a gum-like lithium battery electrolyte, which works as well as liquid electrolytes at conducting electricity but which doesn’t create a fire hazard.
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