Nanodiamonds – tiny particles 10,000 times smaller than the width of a hair – can prevent lithium batteries from bursting into flames, making your smartphones, laptops and other mobile devices safer to use, scientists say. Researchers, including those at Drexel University in the US, developed a recipe that can turn electrolyte solution – a key component of most batteries – into a safeguard against the chemical process that leads to battery-related disasters. The team focused their work on making lithium anodes more stable and lithium plating more uniform by adding nanodiamonds to the electrolyte solution in a battery. Nanodiamonds have been used in the electroplating industry for some time as a way of making metal coatings more uniform. While they are much smaller and cheaper than the diamonds used in jewellery, nanodiamonds still retain the regular structure and shape of their pricey progenitors. When they are deposited, they naturally slide together to form a smooth surface.
Researchers found that lithium ions can easily attach to nanodiamonds, so when they are plating the electrode, it is in the same orderly manner as the nanodiamond particles to which they are linked. Mixing nanodiamonds into the electrolyte solution of a lithium ion battery slows dendrite formation to nil through 100 charge-discharge cycles, researchers said. This discovery is just the beginning of a process that could eventually see electrolyte additives, like nanodiamonds, widely used to produce safe lithium batteries with a high energy density, researchers said. Initial results already show stable charge-discharge cycling for as long as 200 hours, which is long enough for use in some industrial or military applications, but not nearly adequate for batteries used in laptops or cell phones, they added.
“It is potentially game-changing, but it is difficult to be 100 percent certain that dendrites will never grow,” said Yury Gogotsi, professor at Drexel University. “To ensure safety, additives to electrolytes, such as nanodiamonds, need to be combined with other precautions, such as using non-flammable electrolytes, safer electrode materials and stronger separators,” Gogotsi added. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.