Blame it on the battery: Lithium batteries were blamed for the crash of UPS Flight 6 in the desert outside Dubai on September 3, 2010 Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi: Battery fires could be a thing of the past if Abu Dhabi scientists have their way.

Dr Raed Hashaikeh, Associate Professor, Water and Environment Engineering Programme at Masdar Institute and head of a four-member team that recently applied for the US patent, said they had found a way to make fire-prone lithium-ion batteries safer and cheaper using plant material.

And if all things go together, cellulose, a substance found in plants, could make its way into batteries used in most electronic devices, mobile medical equipment, electric cars and aircraft.

“Electrolytes currently used in commercial lithium-ion batteries (LIB) are flammable and volatile, making them both unsafe and unstable,” Dr Hashaikeh told XPRESS.

Trail of mishaps

Today’s commercial LIBs are prone to catching fire. One of the culprits is the use of organic solvents that can heat up in case of short circuiting, deep charging or discharging or exposure to high temperatures, Dr Hashaikeh said.

Lithium batteries were blamed for the on-board fire that suffocated the pilots of UPS Flight 6 which crashed in the desert outside Dubai on September 3, 2010.

Last week a battery-powered Tesla Model S luxury sedan was caught on video going up in flames in the US due a suspected battery issue. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners were also grounded for months due to a battery-related fire.

By using cellulose – a chain of sugar molecules found in plant cell walls which gives wood its remarkable strength – lithium batteries will be better protected, said Dr Hashaikeh, whose team includes three other researchers.


The biggest advantage of cellulose, a thermally-stable substance, is its great abundance. “Cellulose is biodegradable and is a low-cost material,” said Dr. Hashaikeh.

He added that with low-cost solid or quasi-solid electrolytes that have high melting temperatures, all-solid-state Li-ion rechargeable batteries will be safer and more affordable.

Since cellulose is not conductive to Li-ions, the researchers tested different combinations, modified its structure in the lab to maintain its mechanical stability and at the same time make it conductive.

Finally, they were able to successfully come up with a chargeable coin cell battery around their lab-developed developed electrolyte.

“We are looking into scaling up into large batteries and 3D designs of batteries based on our developed electrolyte,” he said.

The team’s peer-reviewed paper on the cellulose-reinforced batteries was published in the Journal of Applied Polymer Science earlier this year and Journal of Membrane Science.

A patent application for the technique has been submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office, he said.