The rationale for that is that typical electrolytes are fabricated from a lithium salt dissolved in a liquid natural solvent, comparable to ether or carbonate. Whereas this solvent improves battery efficiency by serving to to maneuver lithium ions round, it’s also a possible firestarter.
Batteries generate warmth as they function. And if there are punctures or defects in a battery, it’s going to warmth up quickly. At temperatures above 140 levels F, the small molecules of solvent within the electrolyte begin to evaporate, reworking from liquid to fuel and inflating a battery like a balloon – till the fuel catches hearth and the entire thing goes up in flames.
Over the previous 30 years, researchers have developed non-flammable electrolytes comparable to polymer electrolytes, which use a polymer matrix as an alternative of the traditional salt-solvent answer to maneuver ions round. Nevertheless, these safer options don’t transfer ions as effectively as liquid solvents do, so their efficiency has not measured as much as that of typical electrolytes.
This is the reason the SLAC/Stanford crew needed to provide a polymer-based electrolyte that would provide each security and efficiency.
Led by Rachel Z Huang, first creator of the research that presents the electrolyte, the group determined so as to add as a lot as they might of a lithium salt referred to as LiFSI to a polymer-based electrolyte designed and synthesized by Jian-Cheng Lai, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford College and co-first creator of the paper.
“I simply needed to see how a lot I might add and check the restrict,” Huang mentioned. Normally, lower than 50% of a polymer-based electrolyte’s weight is salt. Huang bumped that quantity to 63%, creating one of many saltiest polymer-based electrolytes ever.
In contrast to different polymer-based electrolytes, this one additionally contained flammable solvent molecules. Nevertheless, the general electrolyte, often called Solvent-Anchored non-Flammable Electrolyte (SAFE), proved non-flammable at excessive temperatures throughout exams in a lithium-ion battery.
SAFE works as a result of the solvents and salt work collectively. The solvent molecules assist conduct ions, leading to efficiency corresponding to that of batteries containing typical electrolytes. However, as an alternative of failing at excessive temperatures like most lithium-ion batteries, batteries containing SAFE proceed to function at temperatures between 77–212 levels F.
In the meantime, the ample added salts act as anchors for the solvent molecules, stopping them from evaporating and catching hearth.
Polymer-based electrolytes might be stable or liquid. Importantly, the solvents and salt in SAFE plasticize its polymer matrix to make it a goo-like liquid, identical to typical electrolytes.
In response to the researchers, a gooey electrolyte can match into current, commercially obtainable lithium-ion battery components, not like different non-flammable electrolytes which have emerged. Strong-state ceramic electrolytes, for instance, should use specifically designed electrodes, making them expensive to provide.
“With SAFE there’s no want to vary any of the manufacturing setups,” Huang mentioned. “After all, whether it is ever used for manufacturing there are optimizations wanted for the electrolyte to suit into the manufacturing line, however the work is so much lower than any of the opposite programs.”
The scientist and her colleagues consider that one software of SAFE could also be in electrical vehicles.
They clarify that if the a number of lithium-ion batteries in an electrical automotive sit too shut collectively, they will warmth one another up, which might ultimately result in overheating and hearth. However, if an electrical automotive comprises batteries stuffed with an electrolyte like SAFE that’s steady at excessive temperatures, its batteries might be packed shut collectively with out the concern of overheating.
Along with mitigating hearth danger, this implies much less house occupied by cooling programs and extra space for batteries. Extra batteries improve the general power density, which means the automotive might go longer between charging.
“So it’s not only a security profit,” mentioned Huang. “This electrolyte might additionally help you pack in much more batteries.”