If you spend any time reading about technology, you’re undoubtedly aware of the fact that lithium-ion batteries are both extremely powerful and extremely dangerous. Without lithium-ion battery technology, there’d be no way to build an electric car with a range of hundreds of miles. At the same time, though, you’ve almost certainly read reports in the news about lithium-ion batteries that have overheated during charging or during use and caused severe injury or property damage.
As time goes by, our dependence on lithium-ion battery technology is only going to increase. If you don’t own an electric car today, there’s a decent chance that your next car will be electric. Companies are also beginning to experiment with electric engines for airliners. Solar power and other forms of renewable energy will continue to become more common – and when you rely on any form of energy that isn’t always available, you need a way of storing that energy until you’re ready to use it. Lithium-ion batteries are going to figure prominently into all of these fields, so battery safety is only going to increase in importance.
So, what are the latest technologies that companies are working on – or have already implemented – to ensure that you can use lithium-ion batteries longer and more safely between charging sessions? Whether you’re driving an electric car, playing a game on your phone or enjoying a big puff of Aqua vape juice with your vaping device, these are the latest battery technologies that you’re either enjoying now or will enjoy very soon.
New Battery Cell Types
Until recently, the classic 18650 lithium-ion battery cell was by far the most popular cell for a huge variety of applications including flashlights, vaping devices and even electric cars. The original configuration of the Tesla Model S, for instance, used thousands of 18650 cells. The 18650 cell has an extremely convenient size for consumer devices, being just a bit larger than an AA alkaline battery.
Technology never stops marching forward, though – and today, the newer 21700 cell has become the darling of the energy storage world. First announced by Samsung as part of the powertrain for a new electric bike in 2015, the 21700 cell featured a massive increase in energy density relative to the battery’s size compared to the 18650 cell. Shortly after, Tesla began producing its own 21700 batteries and now uses the cells in its new vehicles.
The 21700 battery, however, isn’t just better than the 18650 battery because of its increased energy density; it’s also better because of its superior heat dissipation. Any battery configuration that dissipates heat more quickly is safer because it’s less likely to overheat. Overheating is one of the biggest potential problems with lithium-ion batteries, so that’s a great thing for consumer safety.
Intelligent Battery Chargers
If you’re a flashlight collector or own a vape mod, you’re very used to charging lithium-ion batteries with a standalone battery charger. Buying a battery charger, however, can sometimes be a hit-or-miss proposition. If you’ve been using battery-powered devices long enough, you’ve undoubtedly experienced what it’s like to connect a battery to a charger and have things not go as planned. Maybe you’ve tried to charge a battery and noticed some unpleasant smells. Maybe you’ve had a battery become uncomfortably hot during charging. In the worst possible set of circumstances, maybe you’ve even had the misfortune of using a cheap battery charger that ended up triggering a fire.
So, what are the electronics companies doing to improve the safety of charging a lithium-ion battery? It’s certain that the battery chargers for popular consumer devices such as smartphones and tablets are manufactured to a higher quality standard than ever. It’s been a long time since any major manufacturer of mobile devices has needed to recall its battery chargers, and that all comes down to intelligent charging circuitry that recognizes potentially dangerous situations and handles them automatically instead of continuing to charge the battery.
If you use a device with a removable battery, though, you need another solution that helps to keep you safe – and that solution is the new breed of intelligent battery chargers. It’s absolutely worth the money to buy a high-quality charger for your lithium-ion batteries, and here are just a few of the features that you’ll enjoy if you do that.
- Independent cell management, allowing you to charge batteries with different sizes, capacities and chemistries simultaneously.
- The ability to choose the rate of charging. By charging your batteries at a slower rate, they’ll produce less heat during charging. They’ll last longer and will be less likely to overheat.
- Automatic recognition of battery chemistry. The lithium-ion battery isn’t the only type of rechargeable battery; there are also nickel-cadmium batteries, nickel-metal hydride batteries and more. With an intelligent battery charger, you can connect whatever battery you like. The charger will automatically detect the battery’s chemistry and capacity, and it’ll charge the battery safely.
New Electrolyte Technologies
The biggest problem with most current lithium-ion batteries is that they use flammable liquid electrolytes. The liquid electrolytes are great for facilitating the transfer of ions between the anode and cathode, and that’s what gives lithium-ion batteries the ability to store so much power and to release that power so quickly. The problem, though, is that the liquid electrode can also vent violently and explode into flames if the battery has a short circuit or is punctured or otherwise damaged.
What we really need is a lithium-ion battery that can tolerate rough handling and isn’t a fire risk. It’s absolutely vital, in fact, if we’re ever going to enjoy a world filled with millions of electric cars and airliners as so many people are expecting – and already, inventors are hard at work designing the next generation of batteries.
In 2017, an inventor based out of Boston University demonstrated a new type of lithium-ion battery that used a solid plastic electrolyte rather than the traditional liquid electrolyte. You can puncture the battery repeatedly with a hammer and nail, and you can even use a pair of scissors to cut sections of the battery away. Whatever is left of the battery will continue supplying power to the connected device, and the battery will not overheat or explode. That’s an extremely safe battery, and it’s exactly the type of battery that we need in order to power our increasingly energy-hungry future.