Batteries hold energy tech back

Electric cars, Boeing 787 limited by graying science

By Seth Borenstein

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 22 2013 8:55 p.m. MST

"You can't get around the fundamental thing is that lithium ion batteries are stuffed full of flammable liquid," Whitacre said.

Even one-in-a-million problems with lithium ion batteries can result in many fires because there are billions of them in use now, with dozens sometimes stacked together in a single device.

Experts say lithium ion batteries are more dangerous because their electrolyte, the liquid that allows ions to move between electrodes in the battery, is more flammable than the substance in older type batteries. Those older types include the lead-acid batteries in most cars and the nickel cadmium batteries that are often in video equipment and power tools.

Still, MIT materials science and engineering professor Gerbrand Ceder and others said the safety problems can be fixed.

Change doesn't come often in the battery field.

"The big advances in battery technology happen rarely. It's been more than 200 years, and we have maybe five different successful rechargeable batteries," said George Blomgren, a former senior technology researcher at Eveready. "It's frustrating."

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