Lithium batteries power many of our most-used items: cellphones, laptops, hearing aids, alarm systems, even your smartwatch. But in some situations, they pose a fire hazard. Does the solution lie in Sin City?
Quantum Copper, a Las Vegas startup, is using a 2016 discovery by Pradip Bhowmik, a longtime professor of organic and polymer chemistry at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) to address the issue and make batteries safer for consumers. Bhowmik invented the polymers that Quantum Copper is using to create battery cases that reduce the fire risk by removing the use of halogenated compounds such as chlorine and bromine.
The project was funded in part by the Battle Born Venture, an investment fund designed to invest in local Nevadan projects.
“We've seen UNLV and the state of Nevada be with us every step of the way,” said Rahul Harkawat, Quantum Copper’s founder and CEO.
Though useful and popular, if overheated, lithium-ion batteries eject gas and flames that spread quickly and are difficult to extinguish. According to the New York Times, there is no widespread database tracking fires related to these batteries, but about one in every 10 million lithium-ion batteries fail. Though a low statistic, the use of lithium batteries is so widespread that this actualizes into a threat more than one might think. But it has not deterred consumers or developers from using them.
According to an April 2022 McKinsey & Co. report, the demand for lithium could rise from around 500,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent to 3 or 4 million metric tons by 2030. The lightness, longer life span, and quick charge time of lithium batteries have led them to become a popular option for electric vehicles, also contributing to the increasing demand.
The UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research published a May 2022 report, “The Lithium-Ion Economy,” explaining the economy for batteries in Nevada and its economic impact.
According to UNLV, Quantum Copper is now in the final stages of developing products for the commercial market¾battery casings, separators, anodes and current collectors¾which are all more fire resistant.