New UCF-developed battery could prevent post-hurricane electric vehicle fires

A University of Central Florida researcher has developed technology that could prevent electric vehicle fires caused by saltwater flooding from Hurricane Ian.

The technology, Aqueous Battery, replaces the volatile and highly flammable organic solvents found in electric vehicle lithium-ion batteries with brine, creating a battery that is safe, fast charging, as well as powerful and does not short circuit during flooding.

The work is detailed in a new study Natural communication.

„During Hurricane Ian, a lot of electric cars were flooded and caught fire,” says Yang Yang, associate professor at UCF’s Center for Nanoscience and Technology, who led the research. „That’s because salt water corrodes the battery and causes a short circuit, which ignites flammable solvents and other components. Our battery uses salt water as an electrolyte, removing highly volatile solvents.

Key to the battery’s design is nano-engineering, which allows the battery to overcome the limitations of previous aqueous batteries, such as slow charging times and poor stability.

The UCF-designed battery charges faster, reaching a full charge in three minutes, compared to the hours lithium-ion batteries take.

Yang is an expert in developing materials for renewable energy devices such as batteries with improved safety.

Salt water electric vehicle fire

Electric vehicle fires occurred after saltwater flooding during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Isaiah in 2020.

As a result, the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have issued special guidance for responding to electrical vehicle fires caused by salt water flooding.

Firefighting requires plenty of water, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs recommends firefighters maintain a continuous and stable water supply of 3,000 to 8,000 gallons.

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At least 12 electric vehicle fires were reported in Florida’s Collier and Lee counties after Hurricane Ian, where several cars were at least partially submerged in salt water, the US said. Fire Administration.

Designing the battery

Previous aqueous battery designs suffered from low energy output, instability, growth of harmful metal structures called dendrites on the negative electrode, and corrosion.

By using saltwater as the battery’s liquid electrolyte, UCF researchers were able to create a high-energy-storing dual-cation battery using naturally occurring metal ions found in saltwater, such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. This implementation allowed it to overcome the inertia of previous single-cation aqueous battery designs.

To solve the problems of instability, dendrite growth and corrosion, the researchers designed a forest-like 3D zinc-copper anode with a thin zinc-oxide protective layer on top.

The novel, nano-engineered surface, which looks like a bird’s-eye-view of a forest, allows researchers to precisely control electrochemical reactions, thereby increasing the battery’s stability and rapid charging capacity.

Furthermore, the zinc-oxide layer inhibited the dendritic growth of zinc, which was confirmed using optical microscopy.

„These batteries, which use innovative materials developed in my lab, are safe even when abused or flooded with salt water,” says Yang. „Our work will help advance electric vehicle technology and continue to advance it as a reliable and safe form of transportation.”

License and Approvals

Patent pending technology available license Through UCF’s Office of Technology Transfer.

This research was supported by grants from the US National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund.

Yang holds joint appointments at UCF’s Nanoscience Technology Center and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, part of the university’s College of Engineering and Computer Science. He is a member of UCF’s Renewable Energy and Chemical Transformation (REACT) cluster. He also holds a postdoctoral joint appointment in UCF’s Department of Chemistry and the Stephen W. Hawking Center for Microgravity Research and Education. Before joining UCF in 2015, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Rice University and an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. He received his PhD in Materials Science from Tsinghua University, China.

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Study Title: Three-Dimensional Zn-Based Alloys for Dendrite-Free Aqueous Zn Battery in Dual-Cation Electrolytes

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