Asian engineer or technician work with ev car battery cells module in laboratory

University of Texas Researchers Have Developed A Fire Resistant EV Battery

In the ever-evolving landscape of electric vehicles (EVs), the quest for safer, more reliable battery technologies has become paramount. A recent breakthrough study from the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering unveils a promising solution: sodium diluent as the key to mitigating the risk of fires sparked by EV batteries. A

How Common Are Lithium Battery Fires?

Since lithium-ion batteries use flammable materials, they can create a “thermal runaway” where constant voltage charging can lead to uncontrollable temperature increases that start a fire. While this event is unlikely, when it does occur, it is hazardous.

A CNN report from earlier this month notes that multiple fires around North America this month are linked to products that use lithium-ion batteries. One instance of this was a five-alarm fire in New York City, of which New York Fire Department Commissioner Laura Kavanagh told the media outlet, “In all of these fires, these lithium-ion fires, it is not a slow burn; there’s not a small amount of fire, it literally explodes.”

While their report links lithium-ion battery products such as e-bikes and e-scooters to these fires, lithium-ion batteries power most EVs. So, while EV battery fires are rare, they are still a plausible danger. Especially given that American consumers purchased 1.2 million EVs last year – that’s a lot of lithium-ion batteries on US roadways and charging at American homes.

UTA’s Sodium Battery

The researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering used a sodium nitrate-based diluent as a nonflammable solvent in the electrolyte, significantly stabilizing the entire battery. The project’s lead researcher, Professor Arumugam Manthiram of the Cockrell School of Engineering, said of this new sodium battery, “Batteries catch fire because the liquid solvents in the electrolyte don’t get along with the other parts of the battery. We have reduced that risk from the equation to create a safer, more stable battery.”

Manthiram explained why this new battery is a better alternative to lithium-ion, “Here we show a sodium battery that is safe and inexpensive to produce, without losing out on performance. It’s critical to develop alternatives to lithium-ion batteries that are not just on par with them, but better.”

Additionally, manufacturers can find sodium worldwide, making it more environmentally friendly than mining for lithium and cobalt. Sodium batteries can also use less expensive current collectors for their electrodes, such as aluminum. Lithium uses copper, which is a less sustainable material. Sodium batteries are around 30 percent less costly than lithium ones, which means that sodium batteries can make EVs cheaper to manufacture and safer overall.

Author: Jarret Hendrickson

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