A team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) has developed a scalable process for producing a safe, high-energy-density battery anode — another landmark achievement in the Laboratory’s quest to create effective, durable lithium-ion batteries.

The research, which was published recently in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A, is a parallel effort to the initiative to create a powerful, flexible, incombustible electrolyte. This time, the team explored the safety of the battery’s electrode, synthesizing the material – aluminum niobate – from scratch on the lab’s Laurel, Maryland, campus.

Relying on flammable and combustible materials, lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) can catch fire or explode, often without any discernable warning. The APL team’s approach to fixing this problem in LIBs, the ubiquitous energy storage vehicle of choice, is multipronged. One path was to create a nonflammable electrolyte; another was to improve the safety of the electrode.

“High energy commercial batteries today use a graphite anode,” explained Konstantinos Gerasopoulos, the project’s principal investigator in APL’s Research and Exploratory Development Department (REDD). “Graphite has high energy density, but that’s what makes it dangerous. It operates close to what we call lithium-plating potential, which is what leads to hazards with a flammable electrolyte.”