March 24, 2019 | 47° F

Rutgers graduate works to develop a safer phone battery


Design flaws with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7s battery caused certain phones to spontaneously catch fire, costing the company over $5 billion in recalls and a 30 percent drop in profits that quarter.

The technology and the safety of cell phone batteries came the world's attention last year when a design flaw in the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 caused the phone to randomly catch fire. Rutgers alumna Preeya Kuray, now a Ph.D. candidate at Penn State, has been working on a type of battery that could be a safer alternative to the current industry standard.

Kuray said the problem with the Galaxy Note 7 has to do with the liquid electrolyte in the battery. An electrolyte is a material that facilitates the transfer of electrical charges. A liquid electrolyte, also called an ionic liquid, is more conductive than a solid one, but it also heats up faster. Because it is a liquid, there is also the potential of leakage, which is especially dangerous because it is flammable.

“What happened with the Samsung Galaxy was the liquid electrolyte heated up very quickly in certain spots,” Kuray said. “Because it heated up so quickly, the battery exploded and caught fire. Solid electrolytes would greatly mitigate that problem.”

Samsung had to recall over 2 million phones. It is estimated that the recall alone cost Samsung over $5 billion, and the company's profits for the quarter dropped by about 30 percent, according to an article in Forbes.

Kuray spent the summer working at Osaka University in Japan to create an electrolyte that would be solid at room temperature, but that would still be conductive enough that it could be used in a battery. The research involves altering the chemistry of the ionic liquid to maximize conductivity while still keeping the electrolyte solid, she said.

These solid electrolytes are called polymerized ionic liquids. A polymer is an organic material “bound by a carbon backbone”— the most common one is plastic, Kuray said

“You're connecting each ionic liquid group with a carbon backbone,” Kuray said. “What that does is you have an electrolyte, but it's solid at room temperature, which means there's no issue with leakage and therefore it's a lot safer than the convention right now.”

Kuray studied materials science as a Rutgers undergraduate. Now in the third year of her Ph.D. program at Penn State, she works on creating materials for soundproofing and her thesis is on soundproof coding. Currently, she is making a material that combines epoxy and polyurethane, and studying how altering the ratio of the two affects its energy dampening properties. This could eventually be used in soundproofing applications, she said. 

Even though it was not directly related to her work at Penn State, Kuray said she was attracted to the project at Osaka University because she wanted to gain some experience with electrically conductive materials.

Kuray won a grant from the National Science Foundation to study throughout the summer over seas. She went to Osaka University because her advisor at Penn State had a collaborator there who was working on a project that seemed to fit her needs, she said.

Now nearing the end of her Ph.D. program, Kuray said she is considering what she will do next. She would like to work with the government to connect science and science policy.

“I think, given the current political climate, it's necessary to have more scientists in lawmaking positions,” she said.

Further in the future she hopes to work in the administration in an engineering school.

“I would love to work in a dean's office and make programs like this for students, programs in which they can go to other countries and have a firsthand experience doing research,” Kuray said. “I feel like it's one of the most beneficial things you can do for your career.”

Max Marcus

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