ORNL licenses liquid-to-solid battery electrolyte technology exclusively to Safire

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has exclusively licensed battery electrolyte technology to Safire Technology Group. The collection of five patented technologies is designed for a drop-in additive for lithium-ion batteries that prevents explosions and fire from impact.

Safire, a battery technology startup formerly known as BTRY, plans to locate facilities in East Tennessee as part of its plan to commercialize the liquid-to-solid battery technology.

The potential for battery cells to catch fire or explode when impacted—such as in a car crash—and cause property loss, serious injuries or deaths is a major challenge in the adoption of battery technology for electric vehicles and aircraft, such as unmanned aerial vehicles. ORNL’s Safe Impact Resistant Electrolyte, or SAFIRE, technology removes this risk through a new electrolyte formulation that changes the electrolyte from liquid to solid upon impact.

In a lithium-ion battery, a thin piece of plastic separates the two electrodes. If the battery is damaged and the plastic layer fails, the electrodes can come into contact and cause the battery’s liquid electrolyte to catch fire.

The SAFIRE electrolyte is a liquid under normal operating conditions, allowing solvents to wet all the electrode surfaces and perform just like a traditional battery electrolyte. However, upon impact the additive causes the electrolyte to undergo an immediate and massive rheological shift to become a solid.

The technology can significantly reduce vehicle weight and increase range by removing the need for heavy protective shielding around the battery.

John Lee, co-founder and CEO of Safire, states: “SAFIRE will transform the car industry, particularly as we pivot towards electric vehicles. The additive is easy to incorporate into existing battery-making processes and provides users with a safer alternative that is lighter and more effective than conventional battery protection, resulting in higher performance and lower total cost of ownership.”

In defense applications, the technology provides projectile and ballistic protection while reducing the weight of defense systems and equipment.

Lee and Mike Grubbs, Safire’s other cofounder, are also partnering with government agencies and industry to develop the technology for electric vertical takeoff and landing, or eVTOL, aircraft, e-bikes and other Li-ion-powered equipment.

ORNL’s Gabriel Veith, the inventor of SAFIRE, has been working to develop and refine the battery technology since 2014. Veith has been named in two R&D 100 Awards, including one for SAFIRE. The development team also includes ORNL colleagues Beth Armstrong, Hsin Wang, Sergiy Kalnaus, Katie Browning and Kevin Cooley.

SAFIRE was originally funded through the ORNL Seed Money program, and the project continued under DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). The commercialization effort received support from the lab’s Technology Innovation Program as well as FedTech’s Startup Studio, a venture firm program dedicated to advancing deep tech.

Safire plans to start developing prototypes with strategic partners.



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