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Tracking Lithium Ions in Batteries to Make Them Safer

12 July 2017

Lithium-ion batteries are everywhere. They are in our laptops, our smartphones, our tablets, our lawnmowers, our drones and everything in between.

These ubiquitous batteries have become the go-to power source for all portable applications. Unfortunately, they have a tendency to catch fire. Last year’s massive battery issue with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 being the most noteworthy, but fires have also broken out in e-cigarettes, electric skateboards, laptops and more.

As a result, the research community has taken up the charge to figure out why these batteries are having issues and developing ways to improve safety. The latest innovation comes from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the American Chemical Society that have developed a potential way to track lithium ions as they travel in a battery.

Rechargeable batteries work by shuffling ions back and forth between electrodes through an electrolyte. Failure often occurs when the lithium ions stray from their intended path.

To track these ions, researchers used fluorescence microscopy, a method used to probe materials and biological systems. The researchers worked with 2-naphthoxazole, or HPNO, a molecule that fluoresces when it attaches to lithium ions. Then they added a visible pump to help prevent photobleaching and other damage.

The result is a system that potentially can image and track lithium ions. Researchers say the next steps involve testing the molecule in a more realistic analog of a battery cell.

The full research report can be found in the journal ACS Sensors.

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