Last-hour technique permitted discovery of what causes batteries to catch fire


It’s linked to dendrites, small crystalline structures that are formed when an excess electrical charge passes through a lithium-ion battery. These crystal growths appear finger-like in nature. Although these dendrites have been observed before, they have never been imaged to atomic-level resolution. Now, it was proved: the six-sided crystals can sometimes break the barriers between different parts of a battery, which will cause it to short-circuit and, sometimes, blow up.

How a dendrite looks

The research technique is amazing: during the flash-freezing phase the sample is dipped into liquid nitrogen which essentially stops the battery in time so that it’s components can be analyzed atom-by-atom. The dendrite was magnified by approximately 40,000 times. The research was conducted on lithium batteries, the team says that this process can be used to examine any of the materials used in the construction of batteries. They can be examined alone, especially any material that’s fragile and chemically unstable. Once we understand how dendrites are formed, battery makers can take steps to prevent them from forming. The cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) already won the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry.


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