Time For a New Battery; Safer and Longer Lasting

Mar 31, 2016

When the first modern battery was invented in 1800, it paved the way for portable electric power.  But for today’s modern technology, conventional batteries are something of a roadblock.  From electric cars, to solar panels, to high-tech toys that catch fire, scientists are working to make safer, lighter and longer lasting batteries. Soon new kind of battery being developed at Virginia Tech might be the answer to these problems.

Today’s high tech lithium batteries contain liquids. But when those liquids heat up they can explode. It’s the reason the batteries are banned in the cargo holds of airplanes and why the hot new toy, the hover board, overheated sparking fires and shining a light on this problem. But new materials for the next generation of batteries could solve this problem and more.  Ying Wang is a graduate student in Chemistry. She began experimenting with what are called ‘gel electrolytes’

“ Based on the properties of these new materials, we want to apply these gel electrolytes in the next generation of battery materials.”

Those properties include a burning point a 5 times higher than liquid ion batteries.

“The components of this are so low volatility that you could actually aim a torch at it and it won’t burn.”

Chemistry Professor Lou Madsen is directing the work.

The ion gel his team and he made is bonded with a super strong material that is similar to Kevlar; the material in bulletproof vests. That’s what makes it able to withstand extreme heat while the ionic gel plays its role as an extremely good conductor of electricity.

“It’s like a translucent solid and it comes out sort of as a little wire that’s maybe an eighth of an inch in diameter. And it’s flexible and it sort of feels a little bit like licorice, like a rope licorice and you can mold it into different shapes.”

And that’s the part that makes this new substance a possible game changer.  Not only could the lighter, longer lasting batteries extend the distances electric cars could travel on a charge – Tesla and General Motors are said to be interested – but it could also figure into medical devices like pacemakers, which would have to be changed less often, even artificial limbs for humans and artificial muscles for robots.

It could also play a role in long-term storage of solar and wind power; So many applications large and small.  Wong says, she’s the type of person who is constantly looking at her cell phone.

“But right now, the smart phone can only last one day before you need to charge it. So if this material can be successfully applied, we don’t need to charge our smart phone or computer every day.  We just need to charge it after several days.”

It’s been suggested that this new type of gel the team created could revolutionize the 48-million dollar battery industry. The work was published in the journal –Advanced Materials.