Swapping electrolytes could prevent big battery fires

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner has been plagued with problems, specifically from its batteries. Using an alternative electrolyte that is more stable at higher temperatures could help reduce fires in large lithium-ion batteries such as those used in the aircraft.

Tim Wang/Flickr

Fires allegedly caused by the lithium-ion batteries in Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Tesla Model S vehicles have sparked concern about the future of these technologies. Researchers now say they have designed a new model of nonflammable lithium-ion battery that is as effective as what is already in use.

Current lithium-ion batteries use a polymer-based electrolyte made of an alkyl carbonate. Tests of a different electrolyte called a perfluoropolyether (PFPE), which is similar in structure to the alkyl carbonate, showed that the PFPE is more stable at temperatures above 200° Celsius. The results suggest that the electrolyte could be used in the large lithium-ion batteries of planes and cars without the risk of fire, scientists suggest February 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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