Thursday, 28 November 2019 09:30

Deakin scientists report breakthrough in solid-state battery tech

Dr Fangfang Chen and Dr Xiaoen Wang. Dr Fangfang Chen and Dr Xiaoen Wang. Supplied

Scientists at Deakin University have used a common commercial polymer to create a solid-state electrolyte, opening the door to a future free from batteries catching fire or exploding if they get too hot.

Dr Fangfang Chen and Dr Xiaoen Wang, both research fellows at the university's Institute for Frontier Materials, said this meant lithium-ion batteries would no longer pose a fire risk as the volatile liquid electrolyte used in them would be replaced by a solid polymer material.

In April 2017, two researchers, one of them lithium-ion battery co-inventor John Goodenough, at the University of Texas, announced a low-cost all-solid-state battery that they said would not combust.

Dr Chen said the Deakin duo had reinvented the way polymer interacted with lithium salt, removing the normally highly flammable properties of traditional lithium batteries.

And Dr Wang added: "All of the products that we've used to make this safer battery process already exist in the market. Polymers have been used as battery conductors for over 50 years, but we're the first to use existing commercial polymer in an improved way."

In 2016, Samsung, the biggest maker of smartphones, was forced to recall its Galaxy Note7 device, after it started to catch fire. The Note7 was released in August 2016 and a month later, reports of exploding devices and resultant fires started to pour in.

"This investigation has the potential to underpin some very significant work to improve batteries at two key points," Dr Wang said about the Deakin research.

"Our findings suggest that next generation batteries will be much safer and have exceptionally better performance.

"From what we've discovered, this electrolyte will allow us to use a lithium metal anode, which could see future batteries last twice as long as they currently do with one charge.

"Alternatively, batteries could end up half of their size and weight without compromising performance time."

Dr Chen said the discovery could change the way batteries were handled in everyday life.

"If industry implements our findings I see a future where battery reliant devices can be safely packed in airplane baggage, for example, or where electric cars don’t pose a fire risk for occupants or emergency services like they currently do," she said.

The process has been proven in coin cell batteries, which are similar to a watch battery in size. The next step is to scale up the batteries to bigger applications - such as for a mobile phone.

"We have started the pouch cell fabrication and testing at Deakin's word-class Battery Technology Research and Innovation Hub at Waurn Ponds. Once we achieve pouch size, we hope to attract collaboration with industry partners," Dr Wang said.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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