Maryland Scientists Discover Novel Battery Design That Could Curb EV Fires, Boost Power Density

November 2, 2023 13:04:20

Scientists from the University of Maryland have discovered a novel battery design that could increase EV battery density while reducing the risk of electric vehicle fires. Although the research team will have to address various cost and design issues before scaling up the technology, they have tentative plans to roll the new batteries out commercially by 2026.

While lithium-ion batteries have proven their power capability in consumer electronics such as mobile phones and laptops, applying them to electric cars has presented several challenges. This includes limited capacity, which limits overall range and negatively impacts EV adoption, and a risk of battery fires.

Lithium-ion EV batteries tend to be safe to use, but they are susceptible to a chemical reaction called thermal runaway, which causes them to overheat. Faults in an EV battery can trigger thermal runaway and result in spontaneous combustion or explosions. These fires are incredibly difficult to put out.

Electric vehicle fires require significantly more water to extinguish and the intense heat, chemical fumes and toxic gases they produce put firefighters at risk. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, first responders are susceptible to safety risks such as toxic gas exposure and electric shock from burning electric vehicle batteries.

University of Maryland researchers have pioneered a technology that could mitigate the battery failures contributing to thermal runaway, reducing the risk of battery fires and making EVs safer. The researchers developed a method that suppressed the growth of dendrites, metallic projections that accumulate on the lithium surface and form branch-like structures within the battery.

In the long-term, dendrites can result in short circuits and cause catastrophic failures in EV batteries. Professor Chunshng Wang from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and his team created a battery “interlayer” that stopped the formation of dendrites and significantly reduced the risk of thermal runaway.

Solid-state batteries, which use a solid electrolyte rather than the usual liquid electrolytes could mitigate the fire risks associated with liquid electrolyte batteries, but Wang notes that bypassing their limitations would be laborious. The batteries aren’t as energy dense as liquid-electrolyte batteries; they also have a lower power output, are expensive to produce, and have technical issues such as high internal resistance.

Wang’s team came up with the idea of redesigned battery interlayers that could prevent dendrite formation and cut thermal runaway at the root. The new design comprises a fluorine-rich interlayer that stabilizes the cathode and suppresses lithium dendrite growth. Battery manufacturer Solid Power plans to launch trials for the new battery technology in anticipation of potential commercialization by 2026.

If the trials are successful, it may not be long before EV makers such as ElectraMeccanica Vehicles Corp. Ltd. (NASDAQ: SOLO) equip their upcoming models with these superior batteries.

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