Hot topic: Researchers aim to reduce fire risk of lithium-ion batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are an almost ubiquitous technology with a serious drawback: they sometimes catch fire.
Video of crew and passengers on a JetBlue flight frantically pouring water onto their backpacks becomes the latest example of broader concerns about batteries, which can now be found in nearly every device that requires portable power. Over the past decade, there has been an increase in headlines about lithium-ion battery fires caused by electric bikes, electric cars and laptops on passenger flights.
Growing public concern has inspired researchers around the world to work to improve the safety and longevity of lithium-ion batteries.
Battery innovation has been exploding in recent years, with researchers creating solid-state batteries by replacing the flammable liquid electrolytes in standard lithium-ion batteries with more stable solid electrolyte materials such as nonflammable gels, inorganic glasses and solid polymers.
Research published last week in the journal Nature suggests a new safety mechanism to prevent the formation of lithium “dendrites,” which form when lithium-ion batteries overheat due to overcharging or damage the dendritic structure. Dendrites can short-circuit batteries and cause explosive fires.
“Each study gives us greater confidence that we can solve the safety and range problems of electric vehicles,” said Chongsheng Wang, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Maryland and lead author of the study.
Wang’s development is an important step toward improving the safety of lithium-ion batteries, said Yuzhang Li, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at UCLA who was not involved in the study.
Lee is working on his own innovation, creating a next-generation lithium metal battery that can store 10 times more energy than the graphite electrode components in traditional lithium-ion batteries.
When it comes to electric vehicle safety, Lee said lithium-ion batteries are not as dangerous or common as the public thinks, and understanding lithium-ion battery safety protocols is critical.
“Both electric vehicles and conventional vehicles have inherent risks,” he said. “But I think electric cars are safer because you’re not sitting on gallons of flammable liquid.”
Lee added that it is important to take preventive measures against overcharging or after an electric vehicle accident.
Researchers studying lithium-ion battery fires at the nonprofit Fire Research Foundation found that fires in electric vehicles are comparable in intensity to fires in traditional gasoline-powered vehicles, but fires in electric vehicles tend to last longer, require more water to extinguish and are more likely to ignite. again. several hours after the flame disappears due to residual energy in the battery.
Victoria Hutchison, senior manager of the foundation’s research program, said electric vehicles pose a unique risk to firefighters, first responders and drivers because of their lithium-ion batteries. But that doesn’t necessarily mean people should be afraid of them, she added.
“We’re still trying to understand what electric vehicle fires are and how best to combat them,” Hutcheson said. “It’s a learning curve. We’ve had internal combustion engine cars for a long time now, it’s more of an unknown, but we just have to learn how to deal with these events properly.”
Concerns about electric vehicle fires could also push up insurance prices, said Martti Simojoki, a loss prevention expert at the International Union of Marine Insurance. He said insuring electric vehicles as cargo is currently one of the least attractive lines of business for insurers, which could increase the cost of insurance for those looking to transport electric vehicles due to the perceived risk of fire.
But a study by the International Union of Marine Insurance, a nonprofit group representing insurance companies, found that electric vehicles are no more dangerous or risky than conventional cars. In fact, it has not been confirmed that a high-profile cargo fire off the Dutch coast this summer was caused by an electric vehicle, despite headlines suggesting otherwise, Simojoki said.
“I think people are reluctant to take risks,” he said. “If the risk is high, the price will be higher. At the end of the day, the end consumer pays for it.”
Correction (Nov. 7, 2023, 9:07 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the study’s lead author. He is Wang Chunsheng, not Chunsheng.

Post time: Nov-16-2023