Can We Extend the Life of EV Batteries and Reduce Fire Risks?
New Technology; New Advances
EVs reduce carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, but the lithium-ion batteries that power them suffer from an image problem. Although they’re less likely to catch fire than internal combustion engine vehicles, Li-ion battery fires burn hotter, faster and longer than gasoline fires. They can even reignite days after the flames are extinguished. How can we make them safer without compromising battery life?
Trail Blazers—Safety Features in Li-Ion Batteries
To reduce fire risks, many EV manufacturers use the following features in their batteries:
- Explosion-proof stainless steel: A rigid metal case surrounds the battery cell.
- Safety vents: If the battery is exposed to high heat—which means the pressure will increase proportionally, as expressed by Gay-Lussac’s law—the safety vent on the battery will open and release excess energy.
- Flame retardant: The battery’s electrolyte fluid contains a flame retardant solution to minimize the risk of it catching fire.
- Thermal fuse: If the battery cell overheats, a built-in safety fuse between the cathode and anode breaks to prevent combustion.
However, the challenge is to find a balance between increased safety features and improved battery life, which often have an inverse relationship.
Solutions That Address Battery Life and Safety
Traditional EV batteries contain lithium metal anodes and a liquid electrolyte solution. Because lithium is highly reactive, it can pose a fire risk if it comes in contact with the liquid.
Chinese scientists recently discovered they could use a thick, gel-like substance in place of electrolyte fluid. Known as a gel polymer electrolyte, the material contains silica, nanoparticles and liquid electrolytes. It extends the battery’s life span and makes it less prone to combustion. This new technology could potentially power everything from EV batteries to drones, making them safer and more efficient.
Although no one has manufactured an EV battery using the gel yet, it’s a promising solution to extend an EV’s battery life and safety profile. Other ideas in development include sodium-ion batteries, batteries with solid-state electrolytes, seawater batteries and nickel-cobalt-manganese-aluminum batteries, which produce more stable cells. Researchers are also looking into different coatings for the internal components of EV batteries to reduce cracking and improve thermal stability.
The Rise of New Battery Technologies
Right now, lithium-ion batteries are the standard for electric vehicles. But innovative batteries that use different metals, coatings or electrolyte formulas could improve safety and battery life. They could also make batteries easier to recycle and more environmentally friendly to produce. It’s an exciting time in the field of vehicle manufacturing, and the EV batteries of the future will likely make today’s technology look primitive.