Though it doesn’t happen often, it’s possible that the batteries of our devices may catch on fire. Luckily, there’s a chemical that can keep your phone battery from literally blowing up in your face.
Photo via TechnoKontrol
By now, you may have heard news of cell phone batteries exploding and causing harm to people nearby. Samsung, for example, had to recall their Galaxy Note 7 phones because of reports that the phone’s battery may explode while charging. Usually, the manufacturer is to blame for exploding batteries, since ensuring that their devices are safe to use is their responsibility. However, what is it that manufacturers do that makes exploding batteries a possibility?
It’s possible that exploding batteries are the consequence of companies trying to push their technologies too close to the limit. As smartphone screens get bigger, and demands for more powerful phones get stronger, our lithium-ion batteries are struggling to keep up without blowing up.
Charging your phone's battery shouldn't be dangerous.
Bigger and more powerful phones need more energy than their predecessors. However, according to materials scientist Lynden Archer, it’s likely that manufacturers have drawn about 90% of the maximum lifespan possible from lithium-ion batteries. The problem is that juggling the safety of the batteries with the demands for device performance is difficult. Using a non-flammable electrolyte design will ensure that the batteries won’t blow up, but this design results in a shorter battery life.
The best-case scenario is thus having a safe battery that can also meet present energy demands. A new paper has found that it’s actually possible to achieve this scenario by making adjustments in the chemical composition of the organic electrolyte that enables energy to flow through the battery.
A Finnish man holds up an iPhone whose battery exploded. [Photo by Hanna Leppänen]
The researchers then used a substance called trimethyl phosphate (TMP), which is flame retardant, and included it in the electrolyte. Results showed that the use of TMP allowed stable discharges for over a year without signs of degradation. The addition of salt also ensured the decrease of the electrolyte’s volatility.
"By applying [the electrolytes] to sodium-ion and lithium-ion batteries, we demonstrate a highly stable charge–discharge reaction at both hard-carbon and graphite anodes for over one year, validating our strategy to develop safe and long-lasting rechargeable batteries," the researchers say.
We're on our way to having safer and more efficient batteries.
The most important question, of course, is whether or not this works. According to the researchers, test results showed “negligible volatility” of up to 150 degrees Celsius. That’s a pretty high threshold--one that can give assurances that no matter how hot your phone gets, it’s not going to blow up in your face. Even better, your phone won’t be sacrificing battery life for safety.
Another important question is when we can expect to have these batteries? Unfortunately, there’s no set timeline on that yet, but it will probably take a significant amount of time. At least, however, we’re on the right track. Our batteries in the future are now even more likely to be safer and more likely to be able to meet energy demands. That is, of course, if smart phones and other technologies can wait.
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