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Stopping batteries from starting fires

A new flame-retardant substance can prevent rechargeable lithium-ion batteries from overheating and perhaps starting a fire, researchers say. With such an additive, the light-but-powerful batteries now used in small consumer electronics could be safely scaled up to power cars and other large, energy-hungry machines.

Jai Prakash and his colleagues at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago added small amounts of the organic substance hexamethoxycyclotriphosphazene to laboratory samples of the conductive liquid, or electrolyte, typically used in lithium-ion batteries. They found that just a small concentration—1.68 percent by weight—effectively reduces the flammability of the electrolyte without breaking down performance.

They note that they chose the substance, in part, because it is considered safe for the environment. Prakash, Chang Woo Lee, and Rajeev Venkatachalapathy report the work in the February Electrochemical and Solid-State Letters.

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