SAN FRANCISCO — Mike Zimmerman likes to shock his guests by using a hammer to drive a nail through a solid polymer lithium metal battery. Nothing happens — and that’s a good thing.
Mr. Zimmerman’s battery is a new spin on lithium-ion batteries, which are widely used in products from smartphones to cars. Today’s lithium-ion batteries, as anyone who has followed Samsung’s recent problems with flammable smartphones may know, can be ticking time bombs. The liquids in them can burst into flames if there is a short circuit of some sort. And driving a nail into one of them is definitely not recommended.
With that in mind, Mr. Zimmerman’s demonstration commands attention. His Woburn, Mass., start-up, Ionic Materials, is at the cutting edge of an effort to design safer batteries. The company is working on “solid” lithium polymer batteries that greatly reduce their combustible nature.
A solid lithium polymer metal battery — when it arrives commercially — will also allow electronics designers to be more creative, because they will be able to use a plasticlike material (the polymer) that allows smaller and more flexible packaging and requires fewer complex safety mechanisms.
“My dream is to create the holy grail of solid batteries,” Mr. Zimmerman said.
After four years of development, he believes he is nearly there and hopes to begin manufacturing within the next two years. Ionic Materials is one of a new wave of academic and commercial research efforts in the United States, Europe and Asia to find safer battery technologies as consumers demand more performance from phones and cars.
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