Nanotechnology batteries - the end of exploding batteries?

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 15, 2007 11:49 am    Post subject: Nanotechnology batteries - the end of exploding batteries? Reply with quote

Nanotechnology batteries - the end of exploding batteries?

by Iddo Genuth

A new, safer type of Li-Ion nanobattery that might help prevent future fires and explosions related to conventional Li-Ion battery use has been developed by researchers at Tel Aviv University. These nanobatteries should also prove useful for various micro devices used for medical, military and a range of other applications.

A brief history of batteries and the way they work

The term battery was coined by Benjamin Franklin in the mid 18th Century to describe a device called the Leyden jar, which was an array of charged storage devices, or capacitors. Later that century, Luigi Galvani developed a device that could produce an electric current by chemical means far greater than the current produced by earlier electrostatic generators. This was a circuit consisting of two dissimilar metals in contact, their other ends exposed to salt water. The device developed by Galvani often called a galvanic cell or a voltaic cell was further developed by Alessandro Volta a few years later. Volta piled up a series array of galvanic cells to invent what was later called a voltaic pile.

A battery converts chemical energy directly into electrical energy. It consists of one or more voltaic cells, each of which is composed of two half cells. Each cell has a positive terminal and a negative terminal; these do not touch each other but are immersed in a solid or liquid electrolyte that contains ions that can react with chemicals in the electrode. Chemical energy is converted into electrical energy by chemical reactions that transfer charge between the electrode and the electrolyte at their interface. Such reactions are called faradaic and are responsible for current flow through the cell. Ordinary, non-charge-transferring (non-faradaic) reactions also occur at the electrode-electrolyte interfaces. Non-faradaic reactions are one reason that voltaic cells (particularly the lead-acid cell of ordinary car batteries) "run down" when sitting unused.

Lithium ion (or Li-Ion) batteries are one of the most common types of batteries used in today's consumer electronic products ranging from mobile phones to laptop computers. The origins of lithium batteries date back to the beginning of the 20th Century, but turning the technology into a useful commercial product capable of hundreds of recharge cycles took long, frustrating decades which ended with Sony's introduction of the first commercial version in the early 1990s. One of the major problems with Li-Ion batteries is safety. To allow usage of Li-Ion batteries by the general public, several mandatory safety mechanisms had to be built into the battery. These include a shut-down contraption against overheating, a tear-away tab for internal pressure, a special vent built for pressure relief, and a thermal interrupt against overcharging. These devices make the battery larger, more expensive, and are constantly at risk of malfunction.

Recently several large computer companies including Dell, Apple, Toshiba, Lenovo, and Sony ordered a recall of millions of Li-ion batteries used on laptop computers after a series of fires and explosions that happened following uncontrolled overheating of the batteries. Sony, the battery manufacturer, admitted that the explosions were caused by a short circuit inside a battery cell caused by a metallic contamination of the lithium-ion chemicals. Although the number of batteries that caught on fire or exploded was small, the financial damage to the companies and the manufacturer is measured in the hundred of millions of dollars.

Three-dimensional Nanobatteries The end of exploding batteries?

About four years ago, Professors Emanuel Peled and Diana Golodnitsky from the School of Chemistry at Tel Aviv University and Professor Menachem Nathan from the Department of Electrical Engineering-Physical Electronics also at Tel Aviv University began working on a new type of battery technology. This new technology allows for the production of smaller, powerful batteries, but even more importantly, batteries that have very little risk of overheating or exploding.

The batteries developed by the team from Tel Aviv University (TAU) work in a different way than conventional batteries. Using a silicon or glass substrate, the team from TAU created a matrix of tiny holes each 50 microns in diameter and 500 micron deep. Each of these holes functions as an independent micro battery or microchannel with an output power of around 10 microW. The power of a 1 cm2 3D nanobattery is about 150-200mW.

One of the most important aspects of this new technology compared to existing battery types is its safety. Since each nanobattery is comprised of thousands of small batteries, even if one of these small batteries has a short circuit and fails, the entire battery can keep functioning, lossing only a very small amount of power. Similar damage to a conventional Li-Ion battery could result in substantial loss of power or a complete malfunction and in extreme cases even fire or explosion.

Sources and further information: The Future of Things & Nanowerk

Story first posted: 17th January 2007.
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