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Improving lithium battery safety | SPIE Newsroom: SPIE

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries have the highest energy density of all existing battery technologies. However, widespread reports of lithium battery fires aboard Boeing’s Dreamliner airplanes and in other consumer-facing applications have raised questions concerning their use. The recent Li-ion problems are due to a fundamental misunderstanding among the engineering community of the governing principles of battery thermodynamics. Existing solutions for battery safety focus on mitigating symptoms rather than treating the root cause.

The sensational nature of battery fires means that the public’s perceived risk of failure outpaces actual failure rates. As such, brand identities are directly threatened, and companies are being forced to choose less efficient energy storage solutions. For example, a 2008 incident with the US Navy’s Advanced Seal Delivery System attributed to Li-ion failure prompted the Navy to revert to older, less dense battery technologies like zinc-silver and nickel-cadmium (NiCd) for many of their field operations. More recently, Airbus dropped Li-ion technologies in favor of less energy dense NiCd batteries. We have focused on characterizing the thermodynamic basis of heat generation in lithium batteries in an effort to strengthen the foundational knowledge needed to make the operation of Li-ion technologies safe and reliable.



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