Scientist Joseph DeSimone leads research toward a safer battery

February 17, 2014 

Joseph DeSimone holds professorships at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, more than 100 patents with more pending, and has a reputation as a guy likely to turn up a world-changing invention before breakfast.

But even so, it’s no ho-hum day when DeSimone, working with scientists in his own chemistry lab and some from the University of California at Berkeley, says, “We think it’s a big deal” of his latest research. His team may have found a liquid electrolyte for lithium-ion batteries that is nonflammable.

The batteries power electric cars and all sorts of consumer electronics, including cell phones, tablets and laptops. And there have been fires in the batteries with the flammable liquid. Thus, this scientific discovery would be monumental if it results in practical application.

The scientists believe the liquid might even lead to development of batteries for cars, for example, that would give electric-powered vehicles more distance capability.

Safety is primary, but a key to the long-term development of new batteries will be answering the question: Will the safer battery liquid work as well as the flammable one? Consumers, after all, are impatient if a new product doesn’t work with the same efficiency as an old product, even with improved safety, and the new product has to be marketable to succeed. (It calls to mind the joke: How many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to change the bulb, and another to talk about how much better the old one used to be.)

DeSimone is not one to proclaim success without reason, and so a “big deal” from him is...well, a big deal. And one of his specialties over an illustrious career has been planting innovative and ground-breaking seeds (pun intended) that have the potential for even bigger discoveries later on. This seems to be, and it’s hoped, will be one of those.

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