Battery with inbuilt ‘fire extinguisher’ developed

Researchers have designed a lithium-ion battery that contains a fire-extinguishing material, which is released if the battery gets too hot.

  
Researchers have designed a lithium-ion battery that contains a fire-extinguishing material, which is released if the battery gets too hot.
 
Flame retardant triphenyl phosphate (TPP) sits inside a shell within the electrolyte fluid. The shell melts when the temperature reaches 150C (302F), releasing the chemical compound. In tests, battery fires were extinguished in 0.4 seconds. Lithium-ion batteries power many devices but are a known fire hazard. The Stanford University research team’s peer-reviewed paper has been published by the journal Science Advances.
 
Previous attempts to incorporate TPP inside batteries without the shell have hampered their performance. If a lithium-ion battery cell charges too quickly or a tiny manufacturing error slips through the net it can result in a short circuit – which can lead to fire.
 
In February 2016, the US National Transportation Safety Board issued a warning about lithium batteries in aeroplane cargo, describing them as “a fire and explosion ignition source”. While Samsung has not yet released the results of its investigation into what caused some of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones to catch fire last year, local reports have suggested it has found that the batteries were responsible.
 
However, the firm would not confirm that this was their conclusion. “We understand the need for answers and appreciate your continued patience as well as that of our valued customers, partners and stakeholders,” it said in a statement. “We are working diligently to ensure that we have a comprehensive update and will provide more information in the coming weeks once we have the final report.”
 
Battery technology has been slower to evolve than the many battery-powered devices that rely on it, said Ian Fogg, senior analyst at IHS, “There is enormous pressure to improve battery tech. It’s one of the areas that’s holding back mobile devices and a range of other products,” he said. “Manufacturers have been balancing out consumer demand for longer-lived batteries, and more powerful devices with better graphics and larger more detailed displays, with the sophistication of battery tech. It’s very difficult to push up the capacity of batteries and there is always a risk that a battery in any device could fail.”
 
 

Why do lithium batteries explode?

Samsung’s decision to halt sales of the new Galaxy Note 7 because of reports of battery explosions is an extraordinary step for a tech giant to take.
 
Samsung’s decision to halt sales of the new Galaxy Note 7 because of reports of battery explosions is an extraordinary step for a tech giant to take.
 
The firm said it had identified a battery issue but did not elaborate. But if a lithium-ion battery cell charges too quickly or a tiny manufacturing error slips through the net it can result in a short circuit – which can lead to fire.
 
One expert urged the industry to find safer alternatives to lithium. “I think one should be concerned and push towards safer battery tech,” said energy storage expert Professor Clare Grey from Cambridge University.
“That should be an important focus on research and industry development. “While most manufacturing flaws will be picked up during initial testing, it’s not an infallible process.”
 
However Prof Grey also said that people should not panic. “I’m standing at an airport – every single person would have to stop what they are doing if we took their batteries away from them,” she said. “We all take risks in our lives – we drive cars sitting on top of flammable organic liquids. Other tech is coming along that is safer.”
 
There have only been 35 cases of the Galaxy Note 7 catching fire reported worldwide following 2.5 million sales, Samsung says. The lithium ion batteries used by Samsung are common across the tech industry – so what makes them hazardous?
 
It’s important to understand a little about how they work. Simply they contain a cathode, an anode and lithium. The cathode and anode are separated by an organic liquid called an electrolyte and a porous material called the separator. The lithium travels through the separator, within the liquid, between the two.
 
If the battery charges too fast, generating heat, lithium plates form around the anode which can create a short circuit. “Normally you would have a battery management system that controls the rate at which you charge,” said Prof Grey. “Batteries are optimised so that you don’t charge too fast – if you do that you will plate the lithium.”
 
This is also why battery charging can be a frustratingly slow experience, she added.
 
Other faults that can cause a short circuit include contamination by tiny fragments of metal during the production process or minute holes in the sealing, which might not become apparent until the battery has been charged a few times as the materials expand and contract. “The manufacturing has got a lot more standardised than it was 10 to 15 years ago,” said Prof Grey.
 
However battery packs – combining battery cells to generate more power – can be problematic and this is increasingly common. Batteries containing 12 cells, for example, are readily available for laptops. “The more you put together, the higher the likelihood that some will fail,” she added. “There are still flaws emerging but it’s getting better. It is a challenge – with so many being produced, you just need one error.”
 
There can be symptoms indicating that a battery is about to fail, said support and repairs provider Geek Squad. “Sometimes, a battery will start to swell and bulge before it fails completely, as the internal cells rupture and break,” it says on its website. “But the bulge doesn’t always happen. If not, you might notice that your device is a little warmer than usual – but let’s be honest, our phones get fairly warm during standard usage anyway.” The firm suggests disposing of any batteries displaying these signs.
 
 
 

Smartphones using lithium-air batteries could last a week per charge

The Post Office has announced that it will be cancelling it’s PAYG offering immediately.
 
Dr Kyeongjae Cho and his team of researchers based at Dallas University have discovered a new catalyst for lithium-air batteries.
 
This new discovery can theoretically enhance a batteries capacity by up to ten times with batteries lasting five times longer than present day fuel-cells. These new batteries breath oxygen which in turn powers chemical reactions inside the battery to produce chemical energy.
 
The new type of battery would be a lot smaller, and more efficient than current day batteries as the lithium-air fuel cells woudn’t need to store an oxidiser like current ithium-ion batteries do. According to Dr Cho this new power source could offer a greater energy density of up to ten times that of lithium-ion, making them comparable to gasoline in terms of output.
 
It isn’t just smartphones that could benefit from the new type of battery with electric cars being an obvious candidate. The new cells are estimated to be one fifth of the weight and one fifth of the cost of standard batteries today. An electric car should be able to cover a 400 mile range off a single charge.
 
However it’s too early to get excited about, as this is only a research breakthrough it could be another ten years until we see lithium-air batteries in smartphones and cars.
 
Dr Cho has commented on the breakthrough saying, “This is a major step, hopefully it will revitalise the interest in lithium-air battery research, creating momentum that can make this practical, rather than just an academic research study.”
 
 

The battery charger that makes you run… and run.. and run

ampy device peoples phone

There’s growing anger among the supporters of Ampy, a Kickstarter-funded wearable battery charger which promised to “power your devices from your motion” but has been described by disappointed investors as “a deadweight” and “an overpriced brick”.
 
It highlights the risk of investing in product ideas before they have actually launched. Ampy says the complaints are being made by a small minority.
 
The battery pack is designed to be worn on the arm or elsewhere around the body. The idea is that movement shakes internal magnets which generate current that is then stored in the battery. There are three LEDs which indicate how much energy is stored – three lights means it is fully charged.
 
While this is its main selling point, the Ampy can also be charged by being plugged into the wall. 

The battery retails at $100 (£70). The armband costs a further $29 (£20) and there are additional customs fees payable on deliveries outside of the US.
 

Ampy has received more than $300,000 (£207,000) in crowd funding from 2,573 backers and a further $875,000 (£604,000) in venture capital investment.
 

There is one positive comment on the device’s Kickstarter page (it is now closed but investors can still leave feedback) since the Ampy shipped in November 2015.
 
However, the firm says it has shipped “between 6,000 and 7,000 units” so far, has issued 71 refunds and honoured 68 warranty claims. Its reviews on Amazon are polarised with (at time of writing) 39% giving it five stars and 31% one star. There are 10 five-star reviews. One of those writers said it had changed her life while another described it as “super helpful”. Three of the 10 reviewers have never reviewed anything on Amazon apart from Ampy, according to their profiles. Three more were anonymous and one had not written a single review in more than two years.
 
Tech news website Cnet awarded it 1.5 stars in a press review. “No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the Ampy to generate any reasonable amount of juice,” wrote Sean Hollister. “After a 60-minute run I had not even generated enough charge to light the first of the three LEDs. I then gave it to my children’s dad who then wore it during an energetic play in the park with our two sons. When he got back, I jumped on a friend’s garden trampoline for half an hour, holding the Ampy and giving it a good shake. After all that, there was still no LED activity. When I plugged in my phone it charged for just over three minutes but the battery percentage on the phone itself remained unchanged at 67%. Then I flung it in my handbag where it remained for days while I stomped around with it at work and out with my kids (apparently bag action also counts). Still nothing.”
 

One reviewer, after far more technical tests than mine, and a teardown of the device itself came to the conclusion that it would take “36 hours of activity” to fully charge the Ampy battery itself. “I think when you tell people you move and then you can charge your phone – people have a high expectation of that and it will seem almost magical,” co-founder Alex Smith said. “We can say this product isn’t for everyone. It is for people who have an active lifestyle”.
This however is not explicit on the Ampy website.
 
He said I should have seen better results from my activities and asked me about the make of my smartphone, how old it was and how bright the screen setting was – all limiting factors in the effectiveness of the device, he said.
“One of the issues is, when this product came out, the most popular phone on the market was iPhone 5. Since then phones have got a lot bigger. The battery is twice as big. Most power from comes from screen size,” he added.
‘Premium product’
 
The Ampy is a lifestyle product, Mr Smith continued. A Fitbit gives you badges, this gives you battery life,” he said. We are not promising it is going to replace [charging at the] wall. On the subject of negative feedback he said it is “often difficult to meet people’s expectations. We think a lot of our customers are very happy,” he added.
 

Martin Stradling in Canada agreed that the motion charging “wasn’t as good” as he expected. “Everything has to start somewhere…. it’s the right idea and a step in the right direction,” he said.
 
Rocco Turso in South Carolina said he kept his Ampy charged via his computer and “topped up” with movement and walker Laurene Beattie said she kept the Ampy in her bag and was able to recharge her phone by up to 50% when needed but added that while she always carried it, she did not use it every day.
Clare Grey is a chemistry professor at Cambridge University and an expert on energy storage. I asked her for her thoughts. By her calculations it would take 13 hours to fully charge the battery of an iPhone 6, based on the current capacity of the Ampy as described on the firm’s blog. “The energy required for [smartphone-like] devices is substantial,” she said. “You’re making use of something you’re doing anyhow but the general problem with energy harvesting is that all these methods are not very efficient.”
 
However it would be unwise to write off these sorts of devices just yet, she added.
 
“Energy-harvesting devices have a role to play and will increasingly play a role in the internet-connected lifestyles we will have,” Prof Grey said.
 
A spokesman for Kickstarter said that crowdfunders who invested in hardware products were supporting their development rather than the actual products. “It’s a system that works best when creators are open and honest about their progress and the challenges they’re facing,” he said in an email. “There’s always a risk that a project won’t turn out as planned.”

 

Lithium-ion battery air shipments face scrutiny in US

aircraft peoples phone

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said shipments of lithium-ion batteries on planes should be restricted due to safety fears.
 
Lithium-ion batteries should be physically separated from flammable hazardous material, the NTSB said. It also wants to limit the quantity of such batteries, used to power many portable devices, allowed as cargo. A US senator is now calling for authorities to be able to ban lithium-ion batteries from aircraft.
 
The NTSB said gadget batteries could be “a fire and explosion ignition source”, “a source of fuel to an existing fire” and “subjected to overheating that can create an explosive condition.” The updated advice follows an investigation into a fire on an Asiana Airlines cargo plane in 2011.
 
Two crew members died when the plane, which was carrying lithium-ion batteries, then crashed into the Korea Strait. NTSB chairman Christopher A Hart said the body’s recommendations would “reduce the likelihood and severity of potential cargo fires” and “provide additional time for the crew to safely land a cargo aircraft in the event a fire is detected”.
 
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also said this week there was “potential risk of a catastrophic aircraft loss” due to damage resulting from a lithium-ion battery fire.
 
Current procedures for dealing with cargo fires on planes were incapable of controlling a lithium-ion battery blaze, the FAA added. The FAA arrived at these conclusions following testing of lithium-ion batteries and methods to extinguish fires caused by them.
US senator Bill Nelson now plans to introduce legislation that would allow the FAA to ban lithium-ion shipments. “If FAA testing has found that fires or explosions caused by lithium-ion batteries can lead to a catastrophic loss of an airplane, then why on Earth would anyone want to prohibit safety regulators from banning large shipments of these batteries on passenger airliners,” Mr Nelson told news site The Hill.
 
The Air Line Pilots Association has also suggested the FAA should have greater powers to restrict lithium-ion shipments. Any new regulations would not apply to individual batteries contained in devices carried by air passengers.

Huawei reveals quick-charge battery

Chinese tech giant Huawei has unveiled two prototype removable lithium-ion batteries that can recharge in minutes, using a bespoke charger.

 
Chinese tech giant Huawei has unveiled two prototype removable lithium-ion batteries that can recharge in minutes, using a bespoke charger.
 
The lower capacity battery charged by 68% in two minutes – but is not big enough to run a smartphone for long. The higher capacity one charged by 48% in five minutes and could provide up to 10 hours of talk time, the firm said.
 
Current battery life is a significant limiting factor in the performance of portable devices. Many tech firms and entrepreneurs are researching the issue. In March, Samsung announced that the batteries in its new Galaxy S6 handsets could power up to four hours of usage after a 10-minute charge. Israeli start-up Storedot unveiled a fast-charging device at the beginning of the year which it hopes will eventually be able to charge any smartphone battery in under one minute.
 
Scientists are also researching alternative battery materials to the traditional lithium-ion such as aluminium and graphene.
 
Huawei says it used heteroatoms – atoms which are not carbon or hydrogen – which the firm claims can increase charging speeds without affecting the battery’s overall lifespan.
 
“Everyone in the world – consumers and all the manufacturers – would benefit from some unforeseen breakthrough in battery chemistry technology,” Motorola president Rick Osterloh said in July. “At the moment everyone is getting interesting incremental benefits from changes in lithium-ion batteries but fundamentally there hasn’t been a Moore’s Law type curve for battery improvements and I think that would be something everyone would benefit [from].”
 
Moore’s Law, which became the bedrock for the computer processor industry, relates to the rate at which processor speeds increase – roughly doubling every two years.
 

Bendy battery promises safe, speedy charging

flexible battery development peoples hone

Scientists have built a flexible aluminium battery which they say could be a cheap, fast-charging and safe alternative to current designs.
 
The protoype consists of a soft pouch, containing aluminium for one electrode and a graphite foam for the other – all surrounded by a special liquid salt. It can recharge in less than a minute and is very safe and durable compared to lithium-ion batteries, but currently only delivers about half the voltage.
 
The work appears in the journal Nature. The researchers say it has advantages over lithium-ion batteries, common in electronic devices like smartphones, as well as traditional alkaline batteries.
 
Other scientists have said the work is exciting but still at a very early stage.
 
“We have developed a rechargeable aluminium battery that may replace existing storage devices, such as alkaline batteries, which are bad for the environment, and lithium-ion batteries, which occasionally burst into flames,” said senior author Prof Hongjie Dai from Stanford University in California. “Our new battery won’t catch fire, even if you drill through it.”
 
In fact, a video made by the research team shows that the battery even continues to work for a short period after being punished in this way. We may not expect batteries to withstand such treatment routinely – but this demonstration certainly sets the new design apart from lithium-ion batteries, which have faced safety concerns including recent bans on air transport. Because it is lightweight and inexpensive, aluminium has attracted interest from battery engineers for many years, but it has never yielded a viable product.
 
Key to the new discovery was the choice of material for the other, positive electrode (the cathode) to go with aluminium for the negative electrode (or anode). Graphite – a form of carbon in which the atoms form thin, flat sheets – turned out to deliver very good performance, while also being similarly lightweight, cheap and widely available.
 
To connect the two electrodes, the pouch is filled with liquid.
 
“The electrolyte is basically a salt that’s liquid at room temperature, so it’s very safe,” said PhD student Ming Gong, another of the study’s authors. This contrasts with the flammable electrolytes used in lithium-ion batteries.
 

The battery performed particularly well when the team made the graphite cathode into a foam: a sponge-like pattern of tiny whiskers of the stuff, surrounding many empty pockets. This allows ions in the electrolyte solution very easy access to the graphite, helping the battery to work faster. When the battery discharges, aluminium dissolves at the anode, while aluminium-containing ions slide into the spaces between atomic graphite layers at the cathode. When it charges again, the reverse occurs, depositing metallic aluminium metal back on the anode.
 
Crucially, this can take place through more than 7,500 complete cycles without the battery losing any capacity – several times more than most lithium-ion batteries, and hundreds of times better than any previous experimental designs that used aluminium.
 
Similarly, the device’s two-volt output is the best seen from an aluminium battery. It is also better than common 1.5-volt alkaline batteries, but lags behind the output of the lithium-ion batteries we use in smartphones and laptops.
 

“Our battery produces about half the voltage of a typical lithium battery,” Prof Dai said. “But improving the cathode material could eventually increase the voltage and energy density.”
 
Nonetheless, his team has high hopes for their design. Already, just by strapping two of the pouch batteries together and plugging them into an adaptor, they managed to charge up a smartphone in a minute. They also suggest it could be very useful in flexible displays, one of the proposals for the next generation of electronics.
 
Prof Dai clearly believes its voltage is the battery’s single main limitation: “Our battery has everything else you’d dream that a battery should have: inexpensive electrodes, good safety, high-speed charging, flexibility and long cycle life.
“I see this as a new battery in its early days. It’s quite exciting.”
Clare Grey, a materials chemist at the University of Cambridge, said the work was “definitely a step-change” for aluminium batteries.
 
“Aluminium batteries are very difficult technology and I think their method of storing the charges inside the graphite is rather clever,” Prof Grey said.
 
But she added that turning the prototype into a larger commercial product would be challenging. One problem is that the process of squeezing ions in between the graphite sheets can cause the material to expand and contract, which is “bad news for the battery”, Prof Grey explained. “And then also, the bigger the graphite sheets are, the further the ions have got to diffuse in – so the slower it gets. So part of reason it’s got this high rate is that it’s got very small platelets of graphite.”
 
She was impressed by the concept and the demonstration of the new design, however.
 
“I think it’s very exciting and it gives new pointers as to how one might get that type of chemistry to work,” Prof Grey said.
 

‘Largest ever’ SanDisk SD memory card launched

peoples-phone-scandisk-card-512gb

 

Memory specialist SanDisk has created an SD card with 512 gigabytes (GB) of storage space – the highest capacity ever released.

The card, which is the size of a postage stamp, will go on sale for $800 (£490).

The launch comes a decade after the firm released a 512-megabyte (MB) SD card with one-thousandth of the space.

Experts believe SD cards could eventually hold up to 2 terabytes (TB) of data, about 2,000GB. The new card is aimed at film-makers shooting in the high-quality 4K format.

The 4K format – which is four times the resolution of HD – requires large file storage. Depending on compression, a single minute of 4K shooting will typically take around 5GB of storage space.

“4K Ultra HD is an example of a technology that is pushing us to develop new storage solutions capable of handling massive file sizes,” said Dinesh Bahal, vice-president of product marketing at SanDisk. The SD card format is one of the most widely used standards of flash storage, popular with digital cameras, camcorders and other mobile devices.

While camera types, resolutions and settings vary – a 512GB card could potentially hold around 30 hours of HD video.

John Delaney, a senior mobile analyst from IDC, said innovation in physical storage was critical to the future of our devices – even if a lot of people are turning to cloud storage instead.

“The thing that is driving cloud storage is multiple devices usage – which solves the, ‘Where’s my stuff?’ problem: if you use cloud storage for everything, whatever device you have with you can be used to access your content.” But he added: “So far there’s still a strong preference for local storage. People just feel more in control and more able to rely on being able to access the content when they literally know where it is.

“Storing in the cloud means you literally don’t know where it is.”

Mr Delaney added that recent high-profile security issues around cloud storage – such as the celebrity picture leak last week – would play on the minds of consumers.

 

 

Apple to buy Dr Beats

dr beats headphone peoples phone

Apple today announced it has agreed to acquire the critically acclaimed subscription streaming music service Beats Music, and Beats Electronics, which makes the popular Beats headphones, speakers and audio software.
 
As part of the acquisition, Beats co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre will join Apple. Apple is acquiring the two companies for a total of $3 billion, consisting of a purchase price of approximately $2.6 billion and approximately $400 million that will vest over time.
 
“Music is such an important part of all of our lives and holds a special place within our hearts at Apple,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “That’s why we have kept investing in music and are bringing together these extraordinary teams so we can continue to create the most innovative music products and services in the world.”
 
“I’ve always known in my heart that Beats belonged with Apple,” said Jimmy Iovine. “The idea when we started the company was inspired by Apple’s unmatched ability to marry culture and technology. Apple’s deep commitment to music fans, artists, songwriters and the music industry is something special.”
 
Iovine has been at the forefront of innovation in the music industry for decades, and he has been an instrumental partner for Apple and iTunes for more than a decade. He has produced or collaborated with some of the most successful artists in the history of the iTunes Store, helping make it the world’s number one music retailer. Iovine and Dr. Dre are sound pioneers, artists and entrepreneurs.
 
Beats Electronics has brought the energy, emotion and excitement of playback in the recording studio back to the listening experience and has introduced an entirely new generation to premium sound entertainment. Beats Music was developed by a team of people who have each spent their entire career in music and provides music fans with an incredible curated listening experience.
 
“Music is such an important part of Apple’s DNA and always will be,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “The addition of Beats will make our music lineup even better, from free streaming with iTunes Radio to a world-class subscription service in Beats, and of course buying music from the iTunes Store as customers have loved to do for years.”
 
In just five years since launch, the Beats “b” has become the brand of choice in the music and sports worlds, and is the market leader in the premium headphone market. Music superstars including Lady Gaga, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj have designed their own customised Beats headphones and speakers. Fashion designers and street artists such as Alexander Wang, Futura and Snarkitecture have collaborated on special limited products, while renowned athletes including LeBron James, Serena Williams and Neymar use Beats as a critical part of their training and game day process. Beats has quickly become part of pop culture in the US and with the acquisition the Beats product lineup will be offered in many more countries through the Apple Online Store, Apple’s retail stores and select Apple Authorised Resellers.
 
Formally established in 2008 as the brainchild of legendary artist and producer Dr. Dre and Chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records Jimmy Iovine, Beats Electronics (Beats) comprises the Beats by Dr. Dre family of premium consumer headphones, earphones, and speakers as well as patented Beats Audio software technology and streaming music subscription service Beats Music. Through these offerings, Beats has effectively brought the energy, emotion and excitement of playback in the recording studio to the listening experience and has introduced an entirely new generation to the possibilities of premium sound entertainment.
 
Beats Music is a subscription streaming music service that focuses on providing a personalised music experience for each user through a unique blend of digital innovation and musical passion. Programmed by a trusted team of well-respected music experts with over 300 years of experience across all genres, Beats Music delivers the right music for any situation, any time, and any preference, personalised to your tastes. The result is an artist-friendly digital music service that does more than simply offer access to music, but one that establishes an emotional connection to it as well.
 
Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.
 

Smartphone charger promises to power up batteries in just 30 seconds

peoples-phone-storedot-battery-charger

 

A new charger that can fully charge a smartphone in 30 seconds will be available in under three years costing $30, according to StoreDot an Israeli university spin off.

A prototype of the charger was shown off at Microsoft’s Think Next conference in Tel Aviv, where it completely recharged a Samsung Galaxy smartphone in around 30 seconds using a charger the size of a laptop power supply.

The charger was developed from technology from the Nanotechnology department of Tel Aviv university. It uses StoreDot’s patented organic compounds, called “Nanodots”, instead of the standard lithium-based chemicals used in current battery technology, to store energy rapidly in a compact form.

StoreDot plans to make chargers compatible with a range of smartphones and other electronic devices like tablets and laptops. It has already received $6m of venture capital funding for the work, which it says originally grew out of research into Alzheimer’s disease a decade ago that discovered “nano-structures” associated with it. Further research led to the new technology.

The prototype charger is about the size of a standard laptop power supply, but StoreDot expects its dedicated engineering team to be able to shrink the technology to a more manageable size.

StoreDot plans to enter production of the 30 second charger by late 2016 with an estimated cost of $30 or roughly twice the price of a standard USB smartphone charger today.