Batteries With Built-In Fire Extinguisher May Be The Answer To Exploding Devices

By

Word Count

470 words

Reading Level

Listen to Article

Hoverboards (Photo Credit: By DanielPetkov (Own work) CC-By SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

In retrospect, 2016 was a banner year for exploding devices. The trend began when hoverboards — two-wheeled self-balancing motorized devices — randomly began to burst into flames, hurting riders and causing millions of dollars in property damages. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 mobile phone, which debuted to stellar reviews in August, faced similar issues and had to be withdrawn from the market by October. It turns out that all the mishaps were the result of malfunctioning lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries used to power the devices.

This, of course, is not the first time devices using lithium-ion batteries have had issues. In 2006, Dell Computers recalled 4.1 million notebook computer batteries because they could erupt in flames. In 2007, Nokia did the same for 46 million phones due to a similar problem. But despite the risks, the flammable batteries continue to be used to power everything from smartphones and laptops to Teslas and Boeing 787s, simply because they are the smallest and lightest batteries available.

A schematic of a lithium-ion battery (Image Credit: Engineering.purdue.edu)

Experts assert the batteries are safe for the most part. They only have the potential to catch fire if they are charged too quickly and generate excess heat or have a manufacturing error that creates a short circuit. In the case of the hoverboards and Samsung phones, the explosions were caused by a combination of too many batteries crammed into a small space and a sub-optimized manufacturing process that put negative and positive poles into contact.

On January 13, a team of Stanford researchers announced that they had devised a way to stop the chemical reaction that causes Li-ion batteries to combust by using flame-retardant triphenyl phosphate (TPP). This is not the first time scientists have suggested using the chemical compound as a fire extinguisher. However, previous attempts to incorporate TPP resulted in reducing the battery’s performance making it impractical to use.

The TPP materials are only released and absorbed into the pack at high temperatures (Photo Credit: Stanford.edu)

To overcome this issue, the Stanford team, led by postdoctoral research fellow Kai Liu, created a shell that acts as a barrier between the TPP and the Li-ion cell when the battery is working normally. But should the battery start to overheat, the shell melts, allowing the TPP to suppress the chemical reaction before it catches fire. In laboratory tests, the flame retardant was able to curb the overheating in just 0.4 seconds.

Even more importantly, only a small amount of TPP is needed to do the task, which means that the size and weight of the battery will not be affected. The fact that the fumes released are non-toxic is the icing on the cake. What is unclear, is if the battery or perhaps even the device needs to be replaced once the chemical compound is released. But given the alternative, we would rather spend money on a new battery, or even a new phone, wouldn’t you?

Resources: BBC.co.uk, theregister.co.uk,cnet.com,npr.org

Cite Article
Learn Keywords in this Article
609 Comments
  • iloveanimals101
    iloveanimals101about 2 months
    i just got 1 and the first time i fell off of it (My sisters kept going in front of me so I had to swerve) the plastic broke! i feel like the wheel protectors should be more durable #HoverBoard #BetterMaterials #FutureUpdates
    • mattchien
      mattchienover 1 year
      WOW!
      • mattchien
        mattchienover 1 year
        COOL!
        • ashwas00fed
          ashwas00fedalmost 2 years
          i had one but it broke my brother has his but he wont let me play with it
          • soccergoalie14
            soccergoalie14almost 2 years
            I have an eletric scooter dirt bike and a electric skateboard and a hoverboard. I also do compete for dirt bike competitions.
          • donthavecovid19
            donthavecovid19almost 2 years
            I got one for my b-day and a bike for Christmas as well as a skateboard!!!☺
            • 29zabraham
              29zabrahamabout 2 years
              Cool overboard 😎
              • explosive goatalmost 3 years
                i got one for by b-day, and my bro got one for easter
                • Wimpy kid yesalmost 3 years
                  wow, nice never knew that
                  • miagamba
                    miagambaalmost 3 years
                    That's really cool!