Battery tech is difficult to get right: not only do batteries have to be made at an affordable cost while offering satisfactory levels of performance, they also need to be safe enough to pack into consumer gadgets. That means potential explosions are definitely out of the question.
While exploding phones are rather rare, lithium-ion batteries have been causing hoverboards to go up in flames, and many models have been pulled from sale. Now researchers at Stanford University in the US believe they’ve created a lithium-ion battery with a suitable failsafe method.
Thanks to a new plastic overlay filled with nickel particles, the new battery shuts itself down when it gets too hot, only continuing to provide power when the levels of heat have dropped to a safe level again. That should prevent the battery’s electrolyte from ever catching on fire.
“People have tried different strategies to solve the problem of accidental fires in lithium-ion batteries,” said Zhenan Bao, one of the research team. “We’ve designed the first battery that can be shut down and revived over repeated heating and cooling cycles without compromising performance.”
Key to the new breakthrough is the fact that the battery technology can shut down and then start up again – while some existing lithium-ion batteries are able to cut the power if they’re about to explode, they’re then no longer functional afterwards.
Although the battery holds “great promise” it’s likely to be several years before it appears in your iPhone: the researchers will need to prove the technology is safe, and can be produced on a mass scale at a price the smartphone manufacturers are able to live with.