Scientists have come up with an amazing way to stop batteries catching fire in small electronic devices such as mobile phones.

When the devices are dropped or damaged there is a risk that the two electrodes inside can touch, causing a fire as they are only separated by a thin piece of plastic.

But a research team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory - an American science and technology lab in Tennessee sponsored by the US Department of Energy - and the University of Rochester in New York has devised a type of silica which immediately solidifies when hit, preventing the electrodes from touching and thus eliminating the risk of fire.

It’s thought the silica will be inexpensive and will only need minor adjustments to the battery manufacturing process.

The American Chemical Society’s website backs up the dangers now posed by lithium-ion batteries, particularly to aircraft.

They state: “Lithium-ion batteries commonly used in consumer electronics are notorious for bursting into flame when damaged or improperly packaged. These incidents occasionally have grave consequences, including burns, house fires and at least one plane crash. Inspired by the weird behaviour of some liquids that solidify on impact, researchers have developed a practical and inexpensive way to help prevent these fires.”

The research team was led by Gabriel Veith, who said: “In a lithium-ion battery a thin piece of plastic separates the two electrodes. If the battery is damaged and the plastic layer fails the electrodes can come into contact and cause the battery’s liquid electrolyte to catch fire.”

Putting something non-flammable  and solid between the electrodes would change the entire production process, causing enormous expense. As an alternative, Gabriel’s team mixes an additive into the conventional electrolyte to create an impact-resistant electrolyte.

It solidifies when hit, preventing the electrodes from touching if the battery is damaged during a fall or crash. If the electrodes don’t touch each other, the battery doesn’t catch fire. On impact, the silica particles clump together and block the flow of fluids and ions.

* More than 50 airline companies across the world – including some of the biggest and best-known - now have a unique invention that contains lithium-ion battery fires on board passenger cabins in planes.

This means that well over 13,000 AvSax fire mitigation bags are on board aircraft in case of any emergency sparked by fires in passengers’ electronic devices.

The bag has been used 27 times to deal with emergencies since the start of 2017.

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