Despite being one of the most common types of batteries, lithium-ion batteries are also very well known for being temperamental devices. If the battery is overcharged, has developed an internal short or has been punctured, there is a possibility that it can catch fire and explode. And with growing demand for these batteries, there is a pressing need to make these devices safer.
Now California-based company, Aminox has made advances in creating safer and more durable technology and says it expects to license for use in commercial products by the end of the year. SafeCore, the patented battery technology makes it less likely that a battery will explode or catch fire due to thermal runaway, which occurs when a battery is either overcharged at a high voltage or if an internal short occurs between two electrodes, resulting in vaporization of the solvent. To prevent this from happening, Aminox inserts an ultra thin layer of material between each electrode and its respective current collector. The company won’t disclose the specific type of material it uses, but has claimed that it is inexpensive and widely available.
When triggered by a sudden rise in current, voltage, or temperature, this layer rapidly decomposes and creates an air gap within the cell. The effect is that electrons can no longer pass easily from an electrode to its current collector and be shuttled to the other side. The goal is for a battery to release energy slowly and safely, rather than releasing it all at once. Adding the SafeCore layer reduces the capacity of a cell by 1 to 3 percent, but Amionx says it also prolongs the battery’s life. Amionx is now trying to license SafeCore to manufacturers, and the company’s executives believe it would be particularly useful for home energy-storage systems and electric vehicles, where safety concerns are high.
Unlike other startups working on advanced battery technologies, Amionx isn’t starting from scratch—it’s a spinout of American Lithium Energy (ALE), which has designed custom lithium-ion batteries for the U.S. military for more than a decade. Amionx has also attracted investment from Qualcomm and published a white paper on its approach.
However, Paul Kohl, a chemical engineer at Georgia Tech says SafeCore won’t change the fact that some manufacturers use low-grade materials and fail to implement proper quality control, which makes the batteries they produce more prone to fires. And these manufacturers aren’t likely to license SafeCore. ”You applaud the effort,” he says, “but it’s going to be a minor contributor to battery safety.”