Jelly batteries seen as safer, cheaper alternative to traditional cells

Jelly batteries have been successfully tested by a research team in the UK.

Jelly batteries have been successfully tested by a team of researchers at the University of Leeds, in England. Pictured here: Not the jelly batteries – they're just regular ol' fruit snacks.

Although it seems strange to say it, the design of many modern electronic devices, from the smartphone to the laptop, is dictated by the size and shape of the battery. Do you have a chunky laptop sitting on your desk? Well, the laptop is chunky in part because the lithium battery is chunky. Is your handset cumbersome and thick? That's because the smartphone manufacturer needed a shell to hold a battery large enough to last more than a couple of hours.

All of which explains the buzz this week about the new set of "jelly batteries" tested by a research team at the University of Leeds, in England. The team, led by professor Ian Ward, have invented a polymer gel – or jelly, if you like – that Paul believes could replace the liquid electrolytes currently used in rechargeable lithium batteries.

"The polymer gel looks like a solid film, but it actually contains about 70 percent liquid electrolyte," Ward said in a statement released to the media. "It's made using the same principles as making a jelly: you add lots of hot water to 'gelatin' — in this case there is a polymer and electrolyte mix — and as it cools it sets to form a solid but flexible mass."

According to the press release, the technology has already been licensed to Polystor Energy Corporation, an American company, "which is conducting trials to commercialise cells for portable consumer electronics." The jelly batteries have some serious scientific potential: Not only would they allow designers to build lighter and more portable devices, but would probably be safer than traditional lithium batteries.

"Safety is of paramount importance in lithium batteries," scientist Peter Bruce, who was not involved in the study, told the BBC. "Conventional lithium batteries use electrolytes based on organic liquids; this is what you see burning in pictures of lithium batteries that catch fire. Replacing liquid electrolytes by a polymer or gel electrolyte should improve safety and lead to an all-solid-state cell."

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