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Oops — Lithium Ion Batteries Did It Again

battery.jpgThey get hot. They short-circuit. They burst into flames. This time Nokia’s on the hot seat, literally. The company has recalled 46 million Lithium Ion batteries manufactured by Matsushita Battery Co. because of 100 overheating incidents. This type of battery technology is used in the vast majority of laptops and mobile phones (check your own).

Editor Steve Bush’s article on the recall states that “generally lithium ion batteries are safe when charged and discharged according to the manufacturer’s instructions.” But the devil is in the trade-offs, as he goes on to note: “Nickel cadmium and nickel metal hydride batteries do not contain flammable materials [unlike Lithium Ion batteries] and are far more robust against thermal runaway. This said, cadmium is toxic.” When it comes to battery technology, it seems it’s a matter of picking your poison.

Tags: battery technology, hot seat, laptops, Short Circuit, trade-offs

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4 Comments

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    October 31, 2007 09:13

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  2. Juergen Pintaske
    August 16, 2007 12:02

    There are so many different types of LI ION on the market, and one of the safest ones are LI ION Manganese. I have not heard about problems with those yet.
    Reading between the lines of the PRs and articles of most of the call backs
    it sounds like either charging at a too high voltage to get more capacity,
    or at a too charge current to fill the battery quickly,
    which gets the chemistry very exited inside.
    It seems that the margins have been lowered to increase performance.
    Or changes of batch performance in production.
    Chemistry is different to designing with silicon or other components as you learn when you switch on your oven.
    So if safety margins get used up, you will come to the limits and problems will start to happen.
    (or things might start burning to take the oven example again)
    The high numbers in the press are the amounts of batteries called back, NOT the ones that failed. These high numbers are very catchy in the media but DO NOT mean they were bad.
    Nowhere in the press I have found yet
    - how many accidents have actually happened
    - how much damage has been caused
    This information seems to be a lot less important to be reported about – and not really good as a headline.
    JP

  3. Steve Bush
    August 15, 2007 16:54

    Without commenting on any specific maker of Liion cells, or any specific over-heating issues, it is possible that some Liion battery designs have pushed the envelope a little too far.
    The headline figure with Liion batteries is energy storage capacity, and this can be increased by advances in chemistry and construction.
    However, it appears that some changes have eaten too far into safety margins, leading to occasional problems.
    I am sure new designs are extensively tested, but maybe it is time to lift off the pedal a little and accept slightly shorter run-times.
    And perhaps system level protection is needed to ensure, for example, a laptop cannot be charged while it is buried in the duvet.

  4. Alun Williams
    August 15, 2007 13:14

    Toxicity or flammability – it’s not an ideal choice!
    Sony must still be reeling from the long list of (laptop) batter recalls it had to deal with, most recently its own branded machines (after Dell, Lenoveo, et al), IIRC. With 46 million BL-5C batteries seemingly affected, the Matsushita HQ won’t be a happy place at the moment.
    Though we should note, we are talking about “very rare cases”
    AW

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