Samsung’s massive global recall of the 18650 battery manufacturer has once again focused attention about the hazards of lithium ion batteries-specifically, the hazards of lithium ion batteries exploding. Samsung first announced the recall on Sept. 2, and simply a week later it took the extraordinary step of asking customers to immediately power down the phones and exchange them for replacements. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a solid advisory asking passengers never to utilize the Note 7 and even stow it in checked baggage. Airlines all over the world hastened to ban in-flight use and charging of the device.
Lithium rechargeable batteries are ubiquitous and, thankfully, the vast majority work all right. They can be industry’s favored source of energy for wireless applications owing to their very long run times. They are utilised in anything from power tools to e-cigarettes to Apple’s new wireless earbuds. And usually, consumers take them with no consideration. In a way, this battery is definitely the ultimate technological black box. The majority are bundled into applications and so are not generally designed for retail sale. Accordingly, the technology is essentially from sight and out from mind, plus it will not obtain the credit it deserves as being an enabler in the mobile computing revolution. Indeed, the lithium rechargeable battery is as important as the miniaturized microprocessor in this connection. It may a day alter the face of automobile transport as a power source for electric vehicles.
Therefore it is impossible to visualize modern life without lithium ion power. But society has gotten a calculated risk in proliferating it. Scientists, engineers, and corporate planners long ago crafted a Faustian bargain with chemistry whenever they created this technology, whose origins date to the mid-1970s. Some variants use highly energetic but very volatile materials which require carefully engineered control systems. Generally, these systems act as intended. Sometimes, though, the lithium genie gets out from the bottle, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
This takes place more frequently than it might seem. Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, there has been a drum roll of product safety warnings and recalls of energy power battery who have burned or blown up practically every form of wireless application, including cameras, notebooks, hoverboards, vaporizers, and from now on smartphones. More ominously, lithium batteries have burned in commercial jet aircraft, a likely factor in one or more major fatal crash, an incident that prompted the FAA to issue a recommendation restricting their bulk carriage on passenger flights in 2010. At the begining of 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization banned outright the shipment of lithium ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft.
So the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco is not only a story of how Samsung botched the rollout of their latest weapon in the smartphone wars. It’s a story regarding the nature of innovation in the postindustrial era, one that highlights the unintended consequences of your i . t . revolution and globalization over the last three decades.
Essentially, the difference between a handy lithium battery plus an incendiary one could be boiled down to three things: how industry manufactures these products, the way integrates them into the applications they power, and just how users treat their battery-containing appliances. Each time a lithium rechargeable discharges, lithium ions layered into the negative electrode or anode (typically made from graphite) lose electrons, which enter into another circuit to accomplish useful work. The ions then migrate through a conductive material referred to as an electrolyte (usually an organic solvent) and become lodged in spaces in the positive electrode or cathode, a layered oxide structure.
There are a number of lithium battery chemistries, plus some tend to be more stable than the others. Some, like lithium cobalt oxide, a common formula in electronic products, are really flammable. When such variants do ignite, the outcome is really a blaze that could be tough to extinguish because of the battery’s self-contained supply of oxidant.
To ensure that such tetchy mixtures remain in check, battery manufacturing requires exacting quality control. Sony learned this lesson when it pioneered lithium rechargeable battery technology in the late 1980s. In the beginning, the chemical process the corporation utilized to have the cathode material (lithium cobalt oxide) produced an extremely fine powder, the granules of which possessed a high surface area. That increased the chance of fire, so Sony needed to invent a process to coarsen the particles.
One more complication is the fact that lithium ion batteries have many failure modes. Recharging too fast or an excessive amount of may cause lithium ions to plate out unevenly on the anode, creating growths called dendrites that may bridge the electrodes and create a short circuit. Short circuits will also be induced by physically damaging a battery, or improperly disposing of it, or perhaps putting it in a pocket containing metal coins. Heat, whether internal or ambient, might cause the flammable electrolyte to generate gases which may react uncontrollably along with other battery materials. This is called thermal runaway and is virtually impossible to prevent once initiated.
So lithium ion batteries must be designed with numerous safety features, including current interrupters and gas vent mechanisms. The standard such feature may be the separator, a polymer membrane that prevents the electrodes from contacting each other and building a short circuit that will direct energy in to the electrolyte. Separators also inhibit dendrites, while offering minimal effectiveness against ionic transport. In a nutshell, the separator may be the last line of defense against thermal runaway. Some larger multicell batteries, for example the types employed in electric vehicles, isolate individual cells to contain failures and employ elaborate and costly cooling and thermal management systems.
Some authorities ascribe Samsung’s battery crisis to complications with separators. Samsung officials did actually hint that this might be the truth after they revealed that a manufacturing flaw had led the negative and positive electrodes to make contact with the other person. If the separator is really to blame is just not yet known.
At any rate, it can be revealing that for Samsung, the thing is entirely the battery, not the smartphone. The implication is that better quality control will solve the situation. Without doubt it will help. Nevertheless the manufacturing of commodity electronics is just too complex for there to be a simple solution here. There has been an organizational, cultural, and intellectual gulf between individuals who create batteries and people who create electronics, inhibiting manufacturers from considering applications and batteries as holistic systems. This estrangement has become further accentuated with the offshoring and outsourcing of industrial research, development, and manufacturing, a results of the competitive pressures of globalization.
The end result has become a protracted consumer product safety crisis. Within the late 1990s and early 2000s, notebook designers introduced faster processors that generated more heat and required more power. The simplest and cheapest technique for designers of lithium cells in order to meet this demand would be to thin out separators to create room for further reactive material, creating thermal management problems and narrowed margins of safety.
Economic pressures further eroded these margins. Throughout the 1990s, the rechargeable lithium battery sector became a highly competitive, low-margin industry dominated by a number of firms based mainly in Japan. From around 2000, these firms started to move manufacturing to South Korea and China in operations initially plagued by extensive bugs and high cell scrap rates.
Most of these factors played a role in the notebook battery fire crisis of 2006. Numerous incidents prompted the most important recalls in electronic products history to that particular date, involving some 9.6 million batteries manufactured by Sony. The corporation ascribed the issue to faulty manufacturing who had contaminated cells with microscopic shards of metal. Establishing quality control will certainly be a tall order as long as original equipment manufacturers disperse supply chains and outsource production.
Another issue is that makers of applications like notebooks and smartphones may well not necessarily realize how to properly integrate outsourced lithium cells into safe battery packs and applications. Sony hinted just as much during the 2006 crisis. While admitting its quality control woes, the company suggested that some notebook manufacturers were improperly charging its batteries, noting that battery configuration, thermal management, and charging protocols varied throughout the industry.
My analysis of Usa Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls in those days (being published in Technology & Culture in January 2017) shows that there might have been some truth to this. Nearly 1 / 2 of the recalled batteries (4.2 million) in 2006 were for notebooks made by Dell, a firm whose business model was according to integrating cheap outsourced parts and minimizing in-house R&D costs. In August 2006, the New York Times cited a former Dell employee who claimed the 02dexspky had suppressed hundreds of incidents of catastrophic battery failures dating to 2002. In comparison, relatively few reported incidents at that time involved Sony batteries in Sony computers.
In a way, then, the lithium ion battery fires are largely a results of how we have structured society. We still don’t have uniform safety protocols for a wide variety of problems concerning 18650 li ion battery, including transporting and getting rid of them and safely rescuing passengers from accidents involving electric cars powered by them. Such measures badly trail the drive to seek greater convenience, and profit, in electronics and electric automobiles. The pursuit of more power and higher voltage is straining the physical limits of lithium ion batteries, where there are few technologies less forgiving from the chaotically single-minded manner in which humankind are increasingly making their way on earth. Scientists are working on safer alternatives, but we ought to expect much more unpleasant surprises in the existing technology within the interim.