Nickel & Dime

Preventing lithium-ion batteries from overheating

Scientists at Stanford University are optimistic that they have developed a solution for the overheating of lithium-ion batteries.

Research led by Stanford chemical engineer Zhenan Bao has resulted in the development of a plastic sheet – a fast and reversible thermoresponsive polymer – that serves as a moderator for the overheating that often occurs with the lightweight, rechargeable batteries frequently used to power smaller electric motors.

The plastic sheet contains carbon-coated nanoparticles of nickel that allow it to still act as a conductor, producing a current that provides power to the motor. According to Bao, this sheet can be integrated without affecting a battery’s functionality. She explains in this video, courtesy of YouTube and NPR:

Its main quality, though, is the ability to expand when overheated, stretching the nickel nanoparticles apart and ceasing conduction. Thus, if a battery begins to overheat, the plastic is capable of sensing the increased temperature and will stop the battery from operating. With the battery shut down, it can cool off, reducing the risk of combustion. The plastic sheet also does not prevent the shut-down battery from restarting and being operational again.

This is an approach that has been researched before, but Bao’s development is quicker to react to increased temperatures than previously attempted plastics, preventing overheating, or “thermal runaway” more efficiently.

An abstract describing Bao’s research describes this in scientific terms: “Importantly, the conductivity decreases within one second by seven to eight orders of magnitude on reaching the transition temperature and spontaneously recovers at room temperature.”

One of the obvious incentives for this solution is the recent popularity of hoverboards, which are handy portable methods of transport containing small electric motors powered by lithium-ion batteries.


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