III) Lead acid and NiCad comprise exactly those components;
but lithium ion has many different flavors. For example: Lithium
nickel manganese cobalt, lithium iron phosphate, lithium cobalt
oxide, lithium titanate, lithium manganese oxide, and lithium
nickel cobalt aluminum oxide. Each flavor has its own performance and safety characteristics.
IV) The battery market will grow faster than can be imagined.
If lithium ion batteries are not properly managed, they can explode.
No discussion about batteries is complete without basic battery 101 information. Batteries are a complex integration of
chemistry, electrical and mechanical disciplines, but here are the
basics for lithium-based batteries:
LAW #1: Batteries contain negative anodes and positive cathodes.
These are reactive opposites and must be isolated with a separator.
LAW #2: Ions in the electrolyte connect everything and make current flow when required.
LAW #3: If the separator doesn’t do its job…kaboom!
LAW #4: Lithium batteries must be used within their operating
limits. Overcharging, over discharging and temperature extremes
will lead to problems and possible explosions.
LAW 5: The more energy in the battery, the bigger the explosion.
Lithium ion already has a torrid history
Billions of lithium ion cells have been made, used and discarded
without any issues. Many manufacturers have never had an incident in the marketplace. However, should there be a problem
with one cell, then adjacent lithium ion cells can be triggered into
thermal runaway and overall catastrophic failure results. This
tendency is so endemic that in the first 10 years of lithium ion
use, half a dozen lithium ion factories burned down because of
this avalanching effect.
Dangers of lithium ion batteries
The lithium ion cell manufacturers learned how to build facto-
ries that were less vulnerable to a single cell failure. The last few
years, however, have seen some high-profile lithium ion safety
problems related to specific devices. Each has had serious conse-
quences. For example:
• In 2013, following two battery fires, Boeing grounded 48
• In 2015, over 100 Hoverboard fires were reported. One sadly
resulted in the death of a three-year-old girl.
•In 2016, Samsung recalled almost 3 million Galaxy Note 7
phones. Seven hundred engineers, 200,000 phones and 30,000
batteries were involved in the investigation. Samsung has an outstanding reputation for quality. This was an unfortunate blemish.
• As of the end of 2016, residential payouts for property damage caused by lithium ion batteries in the U.S. had exceeded
One of the following can cause safety incidents involving fire
• A manufacturing defect that lays dormant until the cell is
used in a device. This was the case in the Note 7 incident.
• Poor design of the battery and/or its integration within the
device/charger. This was a key issue in the Boeing incident.
• Abuse or misuse of the product. This may be intentional or
accidental. A good example is an electronic vehicle catching
fire because an object is kicked up from the road and punctures the underside of the battery case. Insurance fraud also
Lithium ion incidents are not acts of God
Is there reasonable excuse or justification for such problems?
The answer is a definitive no! As with any product that suffers a
destructive incident, it is not always easy to determine the root
cause but these are not acts of God. While there will always be
the one-offs, generally such problems will be systemic and can
be related to a particular lapse somewhere in the design process
or supply chain. As sales grow, and as competition becomes
fierce, a common recipe for problems often comes together.
Battery designs pushed to the limit, new products rushed into
production, and new, less experienced suppliers for batteries
and battery-powered devices entering the market. This is the