Research Says Diamonds May be Key to Safer Batteries

Samsung’s previous explosive Galaxy S7 fiasco was a testament to the potential severity of relatively minor manufacturing errors. But aside from component compatibility issues, Li-ion batteries must still contend with a few more inherent risks that can potentially induce the same disastrous results. Dangers, that this new research should help prevent in the near future.

The Microscopic Tetris Game

Credit via Drexler University, Tsinghua University

Researchers at the Drexel University in Philadelphia have developed a new electrolyte solution that is capable of preventing the buildup of hazardous electrochemical deposition in Li-ion batteries. Dendrites, which is the common term for the built-up lithium “whiskers”, cause a significant hazard in batteries when used over time. These microscopic electrochemical deposits can eventually crawl upwards and into the battery’s separator. A potential short-circuit could then occur, due to the negative and positive parts touching together.

According to the report, the reduction of dendrite buildup was achieved with the incorporation of nanodiamonds into the electrolyte. These diamonds, which are described as 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of human hair, was directly introduced as an added ingredient. Instead of the lithium particles stacking together over time, the nanodiamond particles allow the build up to instead form in an “orderly fashion”.

Akin to placing Tetris blocks in the right spaces, the nanodiamonds guide the lithium particles to deposit evenly, instead of forming one accumulating strand. The report details this as “like using a cheat code that slides each new block into the proper place“. The effect was stated to have significantly extended the dendrite accumulation time, at least to within much nearer the actual charge cycle limit (technical lifespan) of the battery.

A Pound of Prevention, an Ounce of Cure?

Credit via Flickr by Kārlis Dambrāns

As you may have already realized, the research never really pointed out anything about actually preventing dendrite buildup (completely). The report stated that the researchers have simply managed to slow the process down. Even with the nanodiamonds in play, the lithium accumulation stays, despite the high likelihood of the battery dying out before the kaboom ever happens.

The research has thus instead focused on the potential of the nanodiamond concept as a basis for a rigid composite battery design. The new Li-ion will not only use nanodiamonds, but will also be combined with several other near-future safety technologies. In the future, the researchers are hoping that with these integrated concepts, we’ll no longer experience exploding smartphones we can definitively reduce all inherent risks of current Li-ion batteries to almost nil.

Source: Drexel University

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