Research from Nanyang Technological University and Stanford promises to make the lithium-ion batteries that power everything from phones to cars faster to charge and less likely to burst into flame — a rare but potentially deadly occurrence. The NTU team in Singapore, led by Chen Xiaodong, has improved on using graphite for the battery's anode, or negatively charged end, replacing it with a titanium dioxide nanofiber gel. The resulting battery charges in a matter of minutes, not hours, only needs to be replaced every 20 years, and the materials to make it are easy to come by. One caveat: For now, it doesn't have the same capacity as convential lithium-ion batteries, but the researchers are working on that. They hope to address that before the tech comes to market, which Chen said could happen in two years.
As to the fire risk, which happens when the delicate chemistry of charged particles in a battery is disturbed, Stanford University's Yi Cui and his labmates found a way to detect problems before they overheat and become explosive. A 50-nanometer layer of copper added inside the battery will short-circuit before the main cathode does, shutting down the device or, at the very least, warning the user.