Those of you with laptops will remember last year's laptop recall from Dell and Apple. The recalls happened because the Sony batteries contained metal particles, which, in rare cases, could cause the laptop to catch fire.
Apparently, the metal particles could infiltrate the battery's plastic separator, which keeps the positive and negative electrodes within a cell from touching. When that happens, the battery overheats and next thing you know, it's a four-alarm on your desk.
So, touching electrodes = bad.
But, even without the metal, the separator can fail if the battery gets too hot -- 180 degrees, give or take a few degrees, according to this article from Technology Review. Which is why you don't see people driving around in cars powered by lithium-ion batteries.
Well, Technology Review reports researchers at Tonen Chemical in Japan have developed a separator using a new polymer material. This new material is more effective at keeping batteries from overheating because it has a higher tolerance for heat -- up to 40 degrees higher.
This could translate into safer batteries, less combustible laptops and, perhaps soon, lithium-ion powered cars.
I just hope these researchers are talking to the scientists working on the new and improved lithium-ion batteries, which replace some of the metals currently found in batteries with manganese.