Technology

Solution to overheating lithium-ion batteries close: study

The problem of lithium-ion batteries overheating – the likely cause of the hoverboard fire that destroyed a family's home last week – could have been solved.

Scientists in the United States have developed a new material that responds quickly to changing temperatures, as occurs when the battery is being charged.

Ash Ibraheim and his family escaped with their lives after their house was razed by fire, believed to have been caused ...
Ash Ibraheim and his family escaped with their lives after their house was razed by fire, believed to have been caused by a recharging hoverboard. Photo: Justin McManus

The material reacts to the battery, which results in a sudden drop in heat, possibly preventing the battery from overheating and bursting into flames. The material can be placed inside the battery, which prevents thermal "runaway".

The material needs further study, including whether it can be used with larger batteries, such as those in cars, but it is a promising development following widespread concern over the safety of the popular Christmas present.

Researchers from Stanford University said that previous attempts to address the problem have been limited by slow response and eventual compromise to the battery's performance.

Energy density and overall lifespan of lithium-ion batteries have improved significantly in recent years, but safety remains "an important and unresolved issue". It has prevented the widespread adoption of "next-generation, high-energy-density batteries".

Advertisement

A family of five escaped with their lives after their house was razed by fire authorities believed was caused by a hoverboard being recharged in Strathmore, in Melbourne's northern suburbs.

The fire caused about $500,000 in damages.

Energy Safe Victoria said the charger failed to meet electrical-safety standards. Since the blaze, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission launched an investigation into the popular toy's safety and the state's Consumer Affairs Minister, Jane Garrett, has called on the federal government to ban the next-generation items.

Britain has already banned hoverboards.

The consumer watchdog also recalled five 'hoverboards' in December, including the Moonwalker, a two-wheel scooter by Hunter Sports because it was sold with a non-compliant battery charger and cord.

The study was published in the journal Nature Energy.

Many manufacturers prefer lithium-ion batteries because they charge faster, have higher power density and last longer than traditional batteries. They are used for numerous gadgets including computers, smartphones, cameras, game consoles, power tools, electric wheelchairs and scooters and e-cigarettes.

Some airlines have banned items containing lithium-ion batteries to be taken onto flights because of the threat of them catching fire.