Dendrites are the growth of metal fibers within the lithium-ion batteries. They grow on carbon anodes due to batteries being charged at a fast rate. As they grow, the fibers can cause short circuits which leads to overheating, fires and in some cases, even explosions.
"These dead lithium fibers have been a significant impediment to the commercialization of new generations of higher capacity batteries," said Professor Clare Grey of Cambridge University's chemistry department.
Now that researchers have targeted the fibers as a problem and figured out how they grow, the next step is determining why dendrites form, which, according to Cambridge researchers, could lead to new technologies that could both fix the growth problem and find a way for lithium-ion batteries to still obtain a quicker charge.
Researchers are now using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, which is a method of identifying elements in molecules, to observe how the dendrites develop. With this sort of development, lithium-ion batteries could be reformed for the next generation of electric cars.
"Fire safety must be solved before we can get to the next generation of lithium-ion batteries and before we can safely use these batteries in a wider range of transport applications," said Grey. "Now that we can monitor dendrite formation inside batteries, we can identify when they are formed and under what conditions."
Fixing the dendrite growth problem could lead to an increase in lithium-ion battery costs, but could also lead to safer driving conditions in electric cars, which is a general concern for new buyers.
"Our new method should allow researchers to identify which conditions lead to dendrite formation and to rapidly screen potential fixes to prevent the problem," said Grey.