This past holiday season, we saw hoverboards become the most popular gift anyone can give, especially to their kids. And while the days after Christmas did see us laugh at many a “hoverboard fail” video, it wasn’t funny at all to learn of the occasional fires or explosions related to the toys. That, however, may change, assuming the ‘boards of the future come with the exact lithium-ion battery developed recently by Stanford University scientists.
As it currently stands, the main issue with those seemingly combustible hoverboards (which are actually more like faux hoverboards, as they don’t hover) is their conventional lithium-ion battery technology, which involves a highly flammable material that could overheat, or worse, combust in the event of a technical malfunction. That’s mostly a rare occurrence, but it does happen on other devices as well, such as smartphones.
That might not be a problem in the future, as Stanford chemical engineers have developed what is supposedly the first lithium-ion battery that can smartly shut down before it overheats, and restart once it’s cooled to a reasonable temperature. And the secret sauce, if you may, is a form of nanotechnology where sharp nickel particles are coated in graphene and stuck into a thin plastic film to create a circuit breaker of sorts.
“We attached the polyethylene film to one of the battery electrodes so that an electric current could flow through it,” said lead author Zheng Chen in a press release. “To conduct electricity, the spiky particles have to physically touch one another. But during thermal expansion, polyethylene stretches. That causes the particles to spread apart, making the film nonconductive so that electricity can no longer flow through the battery.”
Chen’s co-author Zhenan Bao also noted that it is possible to tweak the temperature threshold of the batteries higher or lower “depending on how many particles we put in or what type of polymer materials we choose.”
As this technology is far from being realized to its fullest, meaning made available to the public, the best thing you can do is shop around for a good, safe hoverboard…and just take care once you’ve gotten one.