Virginia Tech researchers work to develop futuristic battery

Published: Feb. 3, 2020 at 9:43 PM EST
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A group of researchers at Virginia Tech has just secured a $1 million grant to design a lithium battery that can withstand extreme temperatures. The grant is from the Department of Energy in their battery materials research program.

You’ve probably had it happen to you a handful of times, when the temperature of your mobile device gets too hot or too cold and shuts down.

“You basically can’t operate them at low temperatures and then they also will boil, or start to decompose even if they don’t burn,” said Dr. Louis Madsen, a professor of chemistry. “It’s trying to protect itself. It has circuits in there and the computer is programmed in there that when it gets above a certain temperature, it says ‘okay the battery is going to set on fire’ so it just turns off the whole device and that saves it.”

Madsen said normal lithium batteries have flammable liquids inside that carry the lithium, but the batteries they are designing don’t have any liquid inside. They are considered to be much safer and can withstand extreme temperature differences.

“We try and not only make something that works well, but we try and make something where we understand how it works, and that can help us design larger families of things,” Madsen said.

This battery could potentially withstand temperatures of negative 80 degrees Fahrenheit to upwards of 400 or even 500 degrees.

“Our material has some promise for making batteries that can store more energy in the same size so you could maybe have your phone go three days instead of one day without charging it,” he said.

According to Madsen, new battery technology that really works well only comes out every 15 to 20 years, but they believe they’re on the right track.

The prototypes are small and being exposed to various extremes, while also being made with a variety of materials to see what works best. They are hopeful to have a solution in the next few years.

Madsen and his team started working with batteries and learning the basics of raw materials back in 2015. This grant will allow them to continue testing their prototypes.

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