Low temperature battery technology boosts electric car safety

June 16, 2017 // By Nick Flaherty
A team of researchers at the University of California San Diego are commercialising a technology that allows lithium batteries to run at temperatures as low as -60 °C and without the risk of catching fire at high temperatures.

The cells can be used for high altitude unmanned aircraft, polar operation and space missions where heaters are needed to warm up traditional batteries. But the technique that allows the cold operation can also stop thermal runaway that end up with batteries catching fire and gives a higher energy density for electric vehicles.

The team took a very different approach to battery design, looking at liquified gas as the electrolyte for batteries and capacitors rather than more viscous liquids or solid polymers. This allows the battery to operate at lower temperatures, but also as the temperature rises above room temperature the electrolyte stops conducting, Interestingly this effect is reversible, so as the battery cools down the battery starts working again.

The new lithium battery electrolyte was made using liquefied fluoromethane gas and provides an energy density of 400Wh/kg with charging and discharging at -60°C, compared to 250Wh/kg at 0 °C for today’s lithium cells. The electrochemical capacitor electrolyte was made using liquefied difluoromethane gas with 7Wh/kg and operating from -80 °C to +65 °C.

"Better batteries are needed to make electric cars with improved performance-to-cost ratios. And once the temperature range for batteries, ultra-capacitors and their hybrids is widened, these electrochemical energy storage technologies can be adopted in many more emerging markets. This work shows a promising pathway and I think the success of this unconventional approach can inspire more scientists and researchers to explore the unknown territories in this research area," said Prof Shirley Meng, nanoengineering professor at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering who leads the Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion.