back to article As you head off to space with Li-ion batts, don't forget to inject that liquefied gas into them

In 1991, Sony launched the world’s first commercial lithium-ion battery... and since then the design hasn’t changed all that much. Now, new research suggests that incorporating liquefied gas can allow lithium-ion batteries to work at much lower temperatures than previously possible. Lithium-ion batteries are cheap, pretty …

  1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    I thought we killed fluorinated gaseous hydrocarbons for good once and for all for most uses.

    The idea otherwise is sound - just another gas is needed (if they started with what is for all purposes a freone, a lot of the freone replacements will be good candidates).

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      As you head off to space with Li-ion batts, don't forget to inject that liquefied gas into them

      You beat me to it: have an upvote. I don't like the thought of using CFCs either.

      That would be OK if the batteries were only for deep space use, but the vision of eCar batteries containing significant quantities of pressurised CFCs isn't a good one, especially when you realise that any car crash that damages the battery pack would liberate the CFCs.

    2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Spot on. CFCs should rule this precise setup out for commercial use, although the odd one in orbit wouldn't be a major issue. But the important thing is that "it opens up other avenues of research" - now they've found one gas that it works with, they can start looking at others.

    3. Suricou Raven

      That was CFCs.

      These are HFCs.

      They are actually remarkably safe and only slightly damaging to the environment, which makes them the go-to replacements for CFCs.

      If you can get them fully fluorinated, they are near-indestructable chemically. That fluorine-carbon bond takes a silly amount of energy to break, so they just won't react. That's how Teflon works.

  2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Space only

    I'm betting that HFCs and battery defects aren't a good safety mix. They're unstable enough without fluorine appearing appearing every time a defect causes a little spark.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Space only

      flourocarbons are the lightest of the halogen+carbon chemicals, and actually has a chance at reaching ozone, since F + C + 2H = 18 + 12 + 2 = 32, only slightly heavier than nitrogen, and about the same as oxygen. in other words, it's an actual ozone depleter.

      If they can do it with chlorine instead, then no danger of ozone depletion. you'd have to light it on fire to get it "up there" (and by then it breaks down from burning, so no longer a problem). Also diflouromethane would nearly be too heavy to get "up there" without a volcano to help. But flouromethane, that one is a valid concern.

      CFC's and HFCs etc. react directly with ozone and deplete it, if it can get "up there" where the ozone is. The question is whether the chemicals are light enough to actually DO that, or if they just hug the ground.

      So there is a lot of truth in the CFC + ozone reaction, and the HFC/CFC ability to be a greenhouse gas. My question is whether or not the heavier ones actually DO that. I have seen what happens when an entiire chiller's refrigerant tank leaks into a confined space. It's very very difficult to remove [because it's heavier than air]. So with modern refrigerants (and even R12) they're much too heavy to get to the upper atmosphere. If one of THOSE chemicals would do the trick, it would be a lot better than using flouromethane.

      But yeah, flouromethane, bad idea for general use. Except in space.

  3. GBE

    Use a liquid instead of a liquid?

    "the idea of using liquefied gas for an electrolyte instead of liquid or solids"

    Isn't a liquified gas a liquid?

    1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Use a liquid instead of a liquid?

      And aren't all liquids liquified gases ?

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: Use a liquid instead of a liquid?

        "aren't all liquids liquified gases ?"
        Not if they're liquefied solids.

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Use a liquid instead of a liquid?

          Pfft. You're all wrong. They're just slightly chilly quark-gluon plasmas.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Use a liquid instead of a liquid?

            "Pfft. You're all wrong. They're just slightly chilly quark-gluon plasmas."

            With big gaps and a lot of electrons. It's more like Mr. Whippy ice-cream with the electrons taking the place of air. Lots of air. Even more than Mrs. Thatcher managed to get into it.

            I'm not sure where this is going.

    2. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: Use a liquid instead of a liquid?

      I think they should use condensed evaporated melted frozen liquids instead.

  4. willi0000000

    great stuff for Mars . . . greenhouse gasses could only help . . . sounds perfect for outer planets (and their moons) also too.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Boffin

    Article completely misses key reasons you might use this tech on Earth.

    1) It allows pure Lithium Anodes to be used. Highly reactive in air and IIRC a real PITA to work. You have to incorporate it in a chemical compound, so more mass, less energy density.

    2) Above a certain temperature the fluid stops working as an electrolyte. IOW it can arrest thermal runaway in its tracks. The process is also apparently reversible. This would be very attractive as more hybrids and all electric vehicles start appearing on roads and hence more accidents involve them.

    Outside the Arctic and Antarctic Circles how many places get to < -20c?

    The joker what pressure does it need to stay liquid? If if's low enough (2 atm absolute) that's the level of central heating furnaces, or Butane lighters, while a soda can is 6 atms. A piece of "equipment" I'm sure many readers of El Reg are familiar with.

    1. InterestedObserver
      Holmes

      Re: Article completely misses key reasons you might use this tech on Earth.

      Outside the Arctic and Antarctic Circles how many places get to < -20c?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Article completely misses key reasons you might use this tech on Earth.

        "Outside the Arctic and Antarctic Circles how many places get to < -20c?"

        Any place far enough from large bodies of water (which tend to moderate temperature extremes) and far enough from the equator is a good candidate. I saw < -40C almost every winter when living in Edmonton, Canada, which is around the same latitude as Manchester, UK.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Article completely misses key reasons you might use this tech on Earth.

      pressure from butane lighters - ever throw one into a fire? [I've heard about it, never done it - not recommended].

      not saying the tech is bad [we're already using lithium batteries, made from one of the most reactive and unstable substances in the universe, in _everything_ these days] but choice of a different electrolyte might be a good idea. Something that stays liquid at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, for example, but still operates down to "chicago winter" temperatures.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Article completely misses key reasons you might use this tech on Earth.

        "made from one of the most reactive and unstable substances in the universe"

        Neutronium called...

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Article completely misses key reasons you might use this tech on Earth.

      "It allows pure Lithium Anodes to be used. Highly reactive in air and IIRC a real PITA to work. "

      You don't want that in any kind of cell which might face damage or trauma for obvious reasons.

      As for -20 - yes, bloody useful. A long time ago the only way we could keep our WalkieTalkies working in antarctic conditions was to have the battery inside our jackets - which in the days before remote controls on the microphones tended to be annoying if you needed to change channel.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Article completely misses key reasons you might use this tech on Earth.

      Outside the Arctic and Antarctic Circles how many places get to < -20c?

      Last winter - continental Europe going as far south as Italy, Serbian and Bulgaria. To -27 if memory serves me right. I drove across the continent right after the big chill missing it by 3-4 days, so the worst I saw was ~ -18C in the mountains at German/Austrian border.

      Winter of 2011-2012 - continental Europe to same latitudes, to -36 (measured in Czech republic and Moscow) if memory serves me right. I drove across the whole continent that week, seeing -32C at German/Czech border and a week of > -20 in Sofia. My low tech petrol car powered up in the morning from first turn of the key, but was not driveable for 20 minutes. the gear level could not be moved - the gearbox oil was so thick you could not switch into reverse to take it out of the parking lot.

      Winter of 1978 - most of Europe again, with Moscow seeing -47 on New Years eve. We had some guests on New Years eve, all of them managing to get through on the lowest of all low tech - Lada model 1.

      These are the ones I remember off the top of my head, there were at least 3-4 more in the last 40 years.

  6. David Roberts Silver badge

    Lead researcher?

    Not much information in the article but it reads as though a bright but unnamed student pushed a radical idea against some resistance and the boss gets to publish and form a company.

    Hope the student has plenty of shares.

    OTOH it could just be the way it was reported.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lead researcher?

      Good point. And I just watched Real Genius this week...

  7. handleoclast
    Coat

    Halon

    Halon is the obvious choice of gas.

    If the cell ruptures and catches fire in an accident then the halon puts the fire out.

    Simples.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Halon

      Simon? Is that you?

  8. InterestedObserver

    Re: Article completely misses key misses

    Outside the Arctic and Antarctic Circles how many places get to < -20c?

    Regularly in American Midwest...and colder. Seen -30 to -50 F several times in my lifetime.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Go

      "Regularly in American Midwest...and colder. Seen -30 to -50 F "

      Interesting.

      It seems there would be a market for such batteries.

      Do they do Li Ion batteries for trucks and farm machinery already?

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: "Regularly in American Midwest...and colder. Seen -30 to -50 F "

        "Do they do Li Ion batteries for trucks and farm machinery already?"
        Volvo manufacture hybrid trucks and busses that use Li Ion batteries. Probably not worth using for starter motors given how inexpensive lead-acid is. I believe that where low temps are a problem that farm (and other) vehicles are stored in enclosed sheds at a sufficiently high temperature to allow the vehicle to start. I deliberately chose to live where 0 C in winter is rare.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Pint

          "Volvo manufacture hybrid trucks and busses that use Li Ion batteries. "

          Given the American Mid West can reach those sort of temperatures it seems likely Sweden could as well.

          I take your point I'd also expect most places to keep that sort of stuff in a shed, possibly heated but at least insulated.

          I'm not so sure about buses. I could see this as being quite handy if you don't have garage parking or if you find yourself staying out all night somewhere and worried it won't start, or hold charge in the morning.

          TBH my instinct is the fact it stops working as an electrolyte if it gets too hot, shutting down thermal runaway (and hence those Li battery fires that unfortunate headlines from time to time) is the big feature for this tech. Provided the internal pressure is not too high of course. People regularly handle 6 atm pressure vessels.

          Beer because that's what a lot of those pressure vessels contain.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: "Regularly in American Midwest...and colder. Seen -30 to -50 F "

          "Probably not worth using for starter motors given how inexpensive lead-acid is."

          In the manual for Lada cars, the are instructions for -20 and colder include turning on the headlamps/demister for a period before trying to start the engine - the current draw warms the battery sufficently to allow cranking.

      2. IT Poser

        Re: "Regularly in American Midwest...and colder. Seen -30 to -50 F "

        American low-sulfur diesel doesn't tend to work when the temperatures drop below 0F. Trucks and farm machinery will already have heaters for the fuel and oil. Once one is adding fuel tank and engine block heaters adding a battery heater isn't much of a stretch.

    2. IT Poser

      Re: Article completely misses key misses

      -20C=-68F

      I almost made the same mistake as Pittsburgh usually, though not as frequently anymore, has a couple winter nights where the temperature drops below -20F. Luckily I realized my mistake before any beagles were harmed.

      1. IT Poser

        Re: Article completely misses key misses

        Whoops, conversion fail. Looks like I shouldn't apply for that job converting NASA units to those used in the rest of the world.

      2. fnj

        Re: Article completely misses key misses

        -20C=-68F

        WTH?! -20C is -4F.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Article completely misses key misses

          +20ºC=+68ºF, which I suspect was the root of his confusion. But he posted again noting the error, so let's let it slide :-)

    3. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Article completely misses key misses

      Outside the Arctic and Antarctic Circles how many places get to < -20c?

      Central Europe certainly does. Especially in the mountains.

      Actually, I expect anywhere that has a reasonable ski industry will reach < -20ºC at times.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "When Shirley Meng, a nanoengineer"

    What does her size have to do with this?

  10. chuckufarley
    Mushroom

    About that non-flammable bit...

    ...The battery itself might not be flammable in the same way a traditional Li-ion battery is, however the gas fluoromethane *is* highly flamable and gives off hydrogen fluoride when it burns. This is a highly acidic compound that turns to vapor at room temperatures. So you have a highly pressurized container full of a flammable gas that when burning gives off smoke so acidic it can literally eat the corneas out of your eyes.

    What could go wrong?

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: About that non-flammable bit...

      Especially on an aeroplane (pilotless to add to injury) up high in the skies...

      1. DropBear Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: About that non-flammable bit...

        "Especially on an aeroplane (pilotless to add to injury) up high in the skies..."

        ...preferably with the callsign "Flying Dutchman"? Legend has it it's still up there somewhere, the entire crew dead, haunting particularly stormy clouds...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another

    battery story, that like all the others just disappears in a cloud of vapour.

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