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Startup Launches Tech To Prevent Fires in Lithium-Ion Batteries
Posted March 18, 2017
Startup Launches Tech To Prevent Fires in Lithium-Ion Batteries
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By Mike Freeman. Updated March 18, 2017 1:44PM

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Carlsbad [California] start-up Amionx said Tuesday that it has launched new technology aimed at making lithium ion batteries safer by shutting down faulty cells before they catch fire.

The start-up calls its patented technology Safe Core. It recently spun out of American Lithium Energy, a long-time supplier of rugged, next generation batteries to the military.

Amionx hopes to license the technology for use in rechargeable lithium ion batteries, which power billions of electronic gadgets ranging from cellphones to laptops to electric cars.

The company said Safe Core acts like a fuse that kills battery cells when they get too hot or exceed current/voltage thresholds. That typically occurs from physical damage, internal shorts, overcharging or exposure to high temperatures.

"Our proprietary Safe Core technology is a transformative technology in an industry where, over the past 20 years, there have been only incremental advances," said Jiang Fan, chief technology officer of Amionx and co-founder of American Lithium Energy.

The technology itself was developed through U.S. Army funded programs to create batteries that won't explode even when hit by gunfire from high-powered military rifles.

Though relatively infrequent, lithium battery fires have made headlines recently. On Friday, a house fire in Harrisburg, Penn., killed a 3-year-old girl, and officials linked the cause to a hover board that exploded into flames while recharging.

The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has warned consumers to stop using hover boards made by certain manufacturers because of the fire risk.

Last summer, Samsung recalled more than 3 million Galaxy Note 7 smartphones after reports that some phones were overheating and catching fire. U.S. airlines banned passengers from bringing Galaxy Note 7s on-board. The South Korean electronics giant estimates the recall will cost it at least $5.3 billion.

According to Amionx, current battery safety techniques take a layered "outside-in" approach to prevent overheating, including hardened shells with fire retardant chemicals inside.

Amionx applies safety technology at the core, power cell level of the battery.

"It diminishes the chance of thermal runaway by shutting down the cell at the basic cell level before it can reach a critical temperature," said Jenna King, chief executive of Amionx.

Amionx currently has fewer than 50 employees. Company executives declined to say how much money it has raised to spin off from American Lithium Energy -- founded in 2006 by Fan and Robert Spotnitz.

Retired Qualcomm President Steve Altman is an investor in Amionx. "I was immediately impressed by the elegant simplicity of the Safe Core technology from Amionx," said Altman in a statement. "The market for Safe Core includes every product application that uses lithium ion batteries and other chemistries as well."

American Lithium Energy continues to design and manufacture batteries for the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and national research labs.

© 2017 San Diego Union-Tribune syndicated under contract with NewsEdge/Acquire Media. All rights reserved.

Image credit: iStock.

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