Battery breakthrough could spell end of exploding phones and product recalls
The breakthrough by the team from the University of Tokyo in Japan could also mean the end of expensive product recalls, the likes of which have plagued some of the world’s leading tech firms in recent years.
The university’s researchers found that lithium ion batteries, commonly used in phones and electric cars, as well as the rechargeable sodium-ion units, make use of organic electrolytes to facilitate the flow of the electrical charge. The presence of lithium salts and solvents in the electrolytes make batteries more flammable, with nonflammable electrolytes found to have a negative effect on a battery’s performance.
In the study, published in the journal Nature Energy, the team used a solvent called trimethyl phosphate (TMP) and found that electrolytes containing TMP lasted as long, and in some cases longer, than a lithium-ion battery. Added salt reduced the volatility in the mixture, meaning the battery remained stable in temperatures up to 150 degrees Celsius (302 degrees Fahrenheit). When the battery was heated above 150 degrees, the TMP solution immediately put out the resulting fire.
It is estimated Samsung lost more than $5 billion when reports of its Galaxy Note 7 catching fire or exploding led to the phones being recalled in October last year. In total, 1 million of the 2.5 million manufactured phones were recalled. The company blamed design and manufacturing issues with the lithium ion batteries for the explosions.
In August 2016, 36-year-old Australian Gareth Clear claimed he suffered third degree burns when his phone exploded after he fell from his bike. "I just saw smoke coming out of my back pocket and I was completely bewildered about what it was and then all of a sudden I felt this surging pain," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
In 2007, Nokia recalled 46 million phone batteries made between December 2005 and November 2006 due to overheating issues. No serious injuries or property damage were reported, according to CNET.