Sydney University boffins reckon they've got a handle on how to stop batteries catching fire: quit using lithium ions.
Apart from being the cheapest current technology with enough energy density to power your flaming hot Galaxy Note 7, fidget spinner, or laptop, Li-ion batteries' other notable characteristic is volatility.
The zinc-air battery is an established technology that doesn't catch fire, but it's hamstrung by material science. The batteries store and release electricity by reducing or generating oxygen, and the electrocatalysts needed for that process are expensive stuff like platinum or iridium oxide.
As the University notes, that's restricted zinc-air batteries to a handful of applications like hearing aids, railway signal kit, and some film cameras.
The boffins' work, which landed here in the journal Advanced Materials, created “amorphous bimetallic oxide nanoparticles anchored on N-doped reduced graphene oxide”, and an iron-cobalt-oxygen compound that has good oxygen reduction and production performance. Those catalysts are also rather cheaper than platinum or iridium, suggesting the possibility of cheaper zinc-air kit in future.
They're also handy batteries: the study found "less than a 10 percent battery efficacy drop over 60 discharging/charging cycles of 120 hours." ®