Gooey Electrolyte Could Put an End to Battery Fires

Battery fires are no fun. Just ask Boeing. Problem is, lithium-ion batteries are full of liquid acid electrolyte that gushes out when a battery's housing ruptures, causing chemical burns and fires. Not fun. But what if, instead of burny liquid, batteries were filled with a viscous goo that would stay put? That's exactly what these Washington State University researchers propose.

WSU Professor Katie Zhong set out to create a chewing-gum-like battery electrolyte that performs just like the standard liquid, but would stick to the battery's inside instead of gushing out of a broken battery. Professor Zhong and graduate student Yu "Will" Wang created a material that's twice as sticky as chewing gum and holds tenaciously to a battery's guts, rather than spilling out and causing a hazardous situation.

The material is a hybrid of waxy solid particles and liquid electrolyte, which together create a viscous goo. The liquid component carries current nearly as well as traditional electrolyte, while the solid portion serves as a safety backup; if the battery overheats, the solid bits melt, cutting off conductivity and preventing the battery from overheating further.

And since the gummy electrolyte stays conductive even when it's squished or stretched, it could be useful in flexible electronics and bendable batteries—especially since there's no more risk of electrolyte leak if a bendy battery is pushed too far and snaps open.

Zhong hopes to begin building and testing goo-equipped batteries soon.