A paper published in Advanced Energy Materials describes a novel electrolyte material which could potentially make Lithium Ion batteries a lot safer. Lithium Ion cells are popular because they offer good energy density and low mass but they can also pose a fire hazard if they are maltreated. The UK’s CAA recently raised concerns about the growing number of battery-powered consumer electronics on-board passenger aircraft.


The acidic liquid or gel electrolyte in the battery can leak and produce a fire or chemical burn hazard.  Researchers at Washington State University led by Katie Zhong, Westinghouse Distinguished Professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering have developed a battery electrolyte material that could solve the problem. She explained "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”.


The new electrolyte material is both flexible and lightweight and consists of a liquid combined with solid particles of wax or similar material. Current travels through the liquid electrolyte material while the solid particles act as a protective mechanism; if the material gets too hot it melts and stops conduction thereby lessening the fire hazard risk.