It’s a rare lithium-ion battery that overheats and bursts into flames. But when one does, it can cause really bad things to happen. Phones burn through pants pockets, laptops explode while sending email, and even aircraft batteries catch on fire.
For years researchers have worked to develop battery technology that makes such flame-outs less likely. But battery fires are still happening with surprising regularity—just Google “phone battery fire” or “laptop fire” for the scary latest.
Until we have fireproof batteries, there’s another approach: the fire alarm battery. Researchers are developing technology to detect battery problems while they are developing—and before they cause a fire.
The latest approach, published in Nature Communications this month, comes from Stanford’s materials science and engineering department. Researchers there tweaked the traditional battery design to add a nanolayer of copper onto one side of the thin piece of polymer that separates the carbon anode and the lithium metal-oxide cathode. The copper layer doesn’t block the flow of lithium ions between the electrodes, but can detect problems that could create a short circuit and result in a fire.
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