Polymer Gel Could Lead To Cheaper, Safer Lithium Batteries
September 12, 2011

Polymer Gel Could Lead To Cheaper, Safer Lithium Batteries


Scientists at the University of Leeds report they have developed a new type of polymer gel that can produce cheaper, smaller, and safer versions of lithium batteries.

The technology was created by Physics Professor Ian Ward, and according to a September 9 university press release, the gel could replace the liquid electrolytes currently used in rechargeable lithium cells. In addition, Ward believes that the gel could be made into a thin, flexible film that could quickly and inexpensively be manufactured through a 100% automated procedure.

Hamish Pritchard of BBC News suggests that the gel could lead to "lighter laptop computers" and "more efficient electric cars."

The University notes that the technology had been licensed to Polystor Energy Corporation of California, and the company is in the process of conducting trials to "commercialize cells for portable consumer electronics," which could also include digital cameras, smartphones, and MP3 players.

According to Pritchard, these so-called jelly batteries are reportedly as safe as polymer batteries and perform similar to liquid-filled ones, but could cost just one-tenth as much as either of those.

Pritchard notes that the new batteries, which are created by "blending a rubber-like polymer with a conductive, liquid electrolyte into a thin, flexible film of gel that sits between the battery electrodes," should allow for batteries that do not overheat and catch fire.

The result is a highly-conductive, super-thin strip that can be cut or bent to any size or shape, making it usable in just about any type of device. Ward says that the jelly battery appears to be solid, but consists of 70% liquid electrolyte. The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Yorkshire Concept. 

"Safety is of paramount importance in lithium batteries," University of St. Andrews Professor Peter Bruce, who was not involved in the research, told BBC News on Saturday.

"Conventional lithium batteries use electrolytes based on organic liquids; this is what you see burning in pictures of lithium batteries that catch fire. Replacing liquid electrolytes by a polymer or gel electrolyte should improve safety and lead to an all-solid-state cell," he added.


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