Your next phone battery could come with a fire extinguisher

17 Jan 2017

Exploding phone battery. Image: Thailand Photos for Sale/Shutterstock

Lithium-ion batteries are incredibly dangerous in certain circumstances, but are found in nearly all of our devices. Now, a new battery with a built-in fire extinguisher could make them much safer.

The lithium-ion battery has become the backbone of a gadget-loving world, to the point where nearly every smartphone, laptop – and even electric car – uses the energy storage device as its go-to.

However, despite lithium-ion batteries’ ease of use and production, they are also a known fire hazard that can burst into flames when they come into contact with air or water, if they haven’t already overheated through some other means.

With such a potentially dangerous item in nearly every person’s pocket, a team of Stanford University researchers took it upon themselves to develop a new lithium-ion battery with a built-in fire extinguisher.

Publishing their findings in the journal Science Advances, the researchers were able to overcome previous challenges and place triphenyl phosphate (TPP) – a known flame retardant – into the battery itself.

Sitting within the electrolyte fluid, the TPP is released when the temperature of the battery reaches 150 degrees Celsius. In extensive testing, this method was shown to stop any potential danger within just 0.4 seconds.

Race is on to improve batteries

What makes the Stanford team’s design unique is that, while there have been a number of attempts to put TPP into lithium-ion batteries, its inclusion has usually hampered performance – not so with this new battery.

One company that could benefit from this fire extinguisher battery is Samsung, which last year experienced one of the worst public relations disasters in years after a number of its Galaxy Note7 devices exploded due to what was believed to be faulty batteries.

Improving the quality of batteries is one of the tech industry’s biggest focuses of late, as researchers and engineers ponder ways to improve battery life, making batteries – and the devices they power – hundreds of times more efficient than they are today.

These researchers include a team from UC Irvine in the US who, last year, found that a lithium-ion battery assembled using golden nanowire is capable of storing up to 400 times more energy than a standard battery.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic