Less Fire, More Power: The Secret to Safer Lithium-Ion Batteries

Curbing needlelike dendrites that short out cells will make batteries less likely to go up in flames

8 min read
Image showing dendrites growing on the surface of the electrode
Image: Brookhaven National Laboratory/SCIENCE SOURCE

Image showing dendrites growing out of the anode of a lithium-ion cellRoot and Branch: Crystalline lithium-metal structures grow out of the anode of a lithium-ion cell in a branching pattern, thus their name, dendrites (from the Greek  dendron meaning “tree”). If they grow too long, they can short out the cell.Image: Brookhaven National Laboratory/Science Source

Lithium-ion batteries have made headlines for the wrong reason: as a fire hazard. Just this past May, three apparent battery fires in Tesla cars were reported in the United States and Switzerland. In the United States alone, a fire in a lithium-ion battery grounds a flight every 10 days on average, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. And the same problem afflicts electronic cigarettes, which have been blowing up in people’s faces sporadically.

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