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New ‘smart’ fibers curb fires in lithium-ion batteries

Tiny capsules release flame retardant when temperatures get too hot

By
2:00pm, January 13, 2017
flame resistant fibers

FIRE FIGHTER  To stop battery fires in their tracks, researchers formed tiny fibers containing flame retardant, shown above in an image taken by a scanning electron microscope. If the battery overheats, the fibers’ plastic shells melt, releasing the flame retardant encapsulated inside.

Hoverboards and certain cell phones powered by lithium-ion batteries occasionally go up in flames. Scientists now have a new plan for squelching these fires before they flare out of control: incorporating a flame retardant in the battery that’s released if temperatures get too toasty.

Within lithium-ion batteries, ions travel between positive and negative electrodes through a liquid called an electrolyte. But commonly used electrolytes are highly flammable. And if a short circuit in the battery produces enough heat, the electrolyte can ignite.

Simply adding a flame retardant to the electrolyte makes the battery less efficient. So scientists from Stanford University created a “smart” sheet of tiny fibers containing flame retardant, which could be inserted between a battery’s electrodes, the researchers report January 13 in Science Advances.

Each fiber is reminiscent of

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