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Amionx Ready to Roll Out Its Lithium-Ion Battery Safety Tech

Can a layer of cheap, widely-available mystery material prevent thermal runaway?

3 min read
Photo: Amionx
Flame Out: Punctures such as this one can cause lithium-ion batteries to catch fire by creating an internal short inside the cell.
Photo: Amionx

For the most part, lithium-ion batteries are extraordinarily safe. But if a battery is overcharged or develops an internal short, it can catch fire and explode. Unfortunately, this happens frequently enough that battery fires occasionally hurt people and cause major headaches for manufacturers.

With growing demand for the high-capacity, low-cost energy storage that lithium cells provide, engineers have floated many proposals for how to make these batteries even safer. Now Amionx, a company in Carlsbad, Calif., has made an advance that it says further lowers the risk of an explosion, and which it expects to license for use in a commercial product by the end of 2019.

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An illustration of pipes going around from hot to cold behind a chinese animal statue on a pedestal.
MCKIBILLO

Jutting out from the coast of China’s Fujian province, Changbiao Island may seem small and unremarkable. It is anything but. This is where the China National Nuclear Corp. is building two fast-neutron nuclear breeder reactors, the first of which is slated to connect to the grid in 2023, the second in 2026. So China could start producing weapons-grade plutonium there very soon.

They are called breeder reactors because they produce more nuclear fuel than they consume. According to Chinese authorities, the ones on Changbiao are civilian power reactors, designed to generate 600 megawatts of electricity each, which amounts to a little more than 1 percent of the total capacity of China’s nuclear power sector. But each reactor could also yield up to 200 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium each year, enough for about 50 nuclear warheads—which is making nuclear-arms-control experts in Western countries nervous.

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