_TECHNOLOGY Energy

_Fire Proof

A fabric-like material electrode developed at Drexel does not require flammable electrolyte solution — opening the door to safer batteries not at risk for leaks or disastrous meltdowns.

_Vibha Kalra

Kalra is an associate professor in the College of Engineering.

Remember back in 2017 when Samsung’s Galaxy Note devices were catching on fire? That’s because energy-storage devices like batteries, engineered to work ever faster, have become vulnerable to short circuiting when compounded with the presence of a flammable electrolyte liquid. Hence, the fire.

Associate Professor Vibha Kalra and a team of Drexel researchers are working to make batteries less susceptible to overload. Instead of developing a flammable electrolyte solution, Kalra designed a device that uses a thick ion-rich gel electrolyte absorbed in a freestanding mat of porous carbon nanofibers to produce a liquid-free device.

“We have completely eliminated the component that can catch fire in these devices.”

—Vibha Kalray

This device can also improve supercapacitors, an energy-storage device similar to batteries that can be found in everything from mobile devices, laptops and electric cars. Supercapacitors differ from batteries because they disperse their stored energy in a quick spurt, but both use a flammable electrolyte solution that could result in leakage and fires.

“We have completely eliminated the component that can catch fire in these devices,” she says. “And, in doing so, we have also created an electrode that could enable energy-storage devices to become lighter and better.”