SAN DIEGO—At American Lithium Energy’s headquarters outside San Diego, president and co-founder Jiang Fan opens a padlocked door to the company’s battery-testing chamber. Here, squat machines puncture batteries with nails, crush them with a weight and pump so much voltage into them during recharging that they swell like miniature balloons.
This abuse could spark explosions or fires in typical lithium-ion batteries. Yet American Lithium’s cells don’t blow up or ignite. They’re misshapen but harmless.
The small company, which mostly supplies batteries to the U.S. military, believes it has come up with technology to improve safety in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries — the power source for a growing number of electronic gadgets ranging from cellphones to laptops to electric cars to home energy storage.
The technology, branded Safe Core, is complicated, and Fan isn’t revealing many details. But Safe Core stems from a U.S. Department of Energy project to deliver high-energy electric vehicle batteries that won’t catch fire in a crash, and it has been applied to wearable bullet-safe batteries for soldiers.
“What we did was put a fuse inside the cell, so when something is wrong inside, our fuse will kick in and break the current and then the battery will be safe,” said Fan, who has doctorate in solid state chemistry from Arizona State University.
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