ITRI Inks Deals to Make Lithium-ion Batteries Safer

One of the world's largest laptop computer battery makers and around 25 other battery manufacturers in Taiwan have agreed to start developing products with a new safety material that keeps lithium-ion cells from overheating when damaged.

The Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) developed the polymer, STOBA (self-terminated oligomers with hyper-branched architecture) after a high-profile laptop battery recall in 2006 in which 9.6 million Sony batteries were recalled due to an overheating hazard that had caused some laptops to catch fire. STOBA works to keep damaged batteries from overheating, thereby avoiding meltdowns or fires.

Lithium-ion technology is used in batteries for most electronic devices today, from iPods and mobile phones to laptops, digital cameras and more. The technology has been considered safe for years, but damage and production defects can lead to fires. Battery technology similar to STOBA is now being used in hybrid vehicles and electric cars.

ITRI, a publicly funded Taiwanese research center, on Wednesday announced a new battery consortium aimed at developing special STOBA batteries. Companies in the consortium will also begin working with customers on the potential to add STOBA to existing products.

"These battery makers will start discussions with their customers about using STOBA. They can't just start adding a new polymer to batteries without such discussions first," said Alex Peng, deputy general director of the material and chemical research laboratories at ITRI, on the sidelines of a news conference. He said special STOBA-based products will be available late this year, after the third quarter, in products such as batteries for electric bicycles.

Simplo Technology, one of the largest makers of laptop computer batteries in the world, is part of the group, as is battery maker E-One Moli Energy, which will start mass producing STOBA-based lithium-ion batteries by the fourth quarter of this year, ITRI said in a statement.

E-One Moli Energy and ITRI started working together last year to explore ways to make lithium-ion batteries for hybrid cars and electric cars safer and more efficient as part of a five-year deal that took advantage of government incentives for alternative energy projects. E-One makes batteries for BMW's Mini E, an experimental electric car that uses lithium-ion batteries.

ITRI wasn't the first to develop safety technology for lithium-ion batteries. Sony, Toshiba and other lithium-ion battery makers have been working to improve the batteries for years. Three years ago, Panasonic announced a heat-resistive insulating layer inside its battery cells meant to keep the batteries from overheating in the event of a short circuit.

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