Lithium-ion batteries are one of the most popular and commonly used batteries that we have right now. They’re used in cameras, smartphones, laptops and a range of other electronic devices. Although they do have their benefits, including their high energy density output, and low maintenance requirements, they do problems too. One of which is the major fire hazard that these batteries propose. However, researchers over at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in collaboration with the University of Maryland may have just found a way to get around this issue.

Researchers hope their work will bring future Soldiers a completely safe and flexible Li-ion battery that provides identical energy density as current batteries.

The new development is still based on the old lithium-ion battery but for the first time ever a water-salt solution’s been used as its electrolyte, cutting down the risk of any fire or explosion happening immensely. Developed by the army with troops in mind, this technology will bring a “completely safe and flexible Li-ion battery that provides identical energy density as the SOA Li-ion batteries. The batteries will remain safe – without fire and explosion – even under severe mechanical abuses,” explained D. Kang Xu, co-senior author of the study specializing in electrochemistry and materials science.

With the new development, it gives users a longer battery life without all the risks.  Batteries such as those made from nickel/metal hydride are much safer than lithium-ion batteries but you compromise on the energy. “Now, we are showing that you can simultaneously have access to both high energy and high safety,” says Xu. The idea of using an aqueous battery was also bought up back in 2015 but suffered from the so-called “cathodic challenge”, where one battery gets degraded by the aqueous electrolyte.  In order to fix this issue, Chongyin Yang, first author and University of Maryland assistant research scientist, came up with a new type of electrolyte coating made from a gel polymer.

This coating expels water molecules from the electrode’s surface then sets to work separating the solid anode from the liquid electrolyte by forming an interphase.  The interface is what protects the anode from any adverse reactions and allows the battery to achieve a higher energy density. “The key innovation here is making the right gel that can block water contact with the anode so that the water doesn’t decompose and can also form the right interphase to support high battery performance,” commented Chunsheng Wang, co-senior author and Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering.

By adding a gel coating to the battery it boosts the energy density considerably in comparison to any other similar aqueous lithium-ion battery. Although this new type of battery is already suitable for commercial use, there are still other improvements that can be made to make it even more competitive. Wang says one thing that can be improved on is the battery cycle and is an area that’s being looked into currently. So, there are a few minor adaptations still to be made before they’re let loose on the commercial market, but if Wang and team have anything to do with it, hopefully, it shouldn’t be too long of a wait.

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