Safer, faster-charging lithium-ion batteries thanks to new chip, says pioneer

Lithium-ion battery trailblazer says a new chip will warn when cells are at risk of catching fire and will also optimise charging.

Professor Rachid Yazami argues that the new chip will provide richer diagnostics about a battery's state. Image: NTU Singapore

A lithium-ion battery pioneer has developed a new chip that will warn users if their battery is at risk of catching fire and which promises to cut charge times.

The new chip was developed by Professor Rachid Yazami of the Energy Research Institute at the Nanyang Technology University in Singapore.

Yazami is recognised as one of three founders of the lithium-ion battery, having showed in 1980 that graphite could serve as the battery's negative node.

At the heart of the chip, designed to fit even the smallest lithium-ion batteries in mobile devices, is a new algorithm that reveals richer diagnostics about the battery's state than is possible today.

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According to the university, the chip in current lithium-ion batteries only shows voltage and temperature readings whereas the new chip can analyse a battery's state of health and state of charge.

The ability to detect a battery's health could help reduce the risk of fires. While that will be welcome reassurance for consumers, chances of a fire remain fairly low.

However, as Yazami points out, billions of lithium-ion batteries are produced each year and the safety of these becomes more critical with the emergence of electric cars running on lithium-ion cells.

"Even a one-in-a-million chance would mean over a thousand failures," he said.

"This poses a serious risk for electric vehicles and even in advanced aeroplanes, as usually big battery packs have hundreds of cells or more bundled together to power the vehicle or aircraft. If there is a chemical fire caused by a single failed battery, it could cause fires in nearby batteries, leading to an explosion."

However, smartphone owners may be more interested in the chip's ability to speed up battery charging, which has become a key differentiator among smartphone models.

Microsoft, Samsung, Google and others have boasted quick-charge features in recent flagships, which come in part due to Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 technology in its latest chips.

As Microsoft detailed recently, its new Lumia 950, which runs on such one of these, can move from a 10 percent to 50 percent charge in 30 minutes. Qualcomm promises Quick Charge 3.0, available in its new Snapdragon 820, will be 38 percent faster than its predecessor.

Yazami said his chip, which is on track for commercialisation, should offer further opportunities to improve charging times.

"Our technology can also tell the exact state of charge of the battery, and thus optimise the charging so the battery can be maintained in its best condition while being charged faster," Yazami said.

"My vision for the future is that every battery will have this chip, which will in turn reduce the risk of battery fires in electronic devices and electric vehicles while extending their life span."

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