Samsung’s massive global recall of its lithium battery has yet again focused attention in the hazards of lithium ion batteries-specifically, the risks of lithium ion batteries exploding. Samsung first announced the recall on Sept. 2, and just every 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 use the Note 7 or perhaps stow it in checked baggage. Airlines around the globe 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 are industry’s favored power source for wireless applications because of their lengthy run times. They are used in from power tools to e-cigarettes to Apple’s new wireless earbuds. And usually, consumers drive them as a given. In many ways, this battery may be the ultimate technological black box. The majority are bundled into applications and they are not generally accessible for retail sale. Accordingly, the technology is basically away from sight and from mind, plus it will not obtain the credit it deserves for an enabler in the mobile computing revolution. Indeed, the lithium rechargeable battery is as essential as the miniaturized microprocessor in this regard. It might one day alter the face of automobile transport like a source of energy 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 created a Faustian bargain with chemistry once they created this technology, whose origins date to the mid-1970s. Some variants use highly energetic but very volatile materials which need carefully engineered control systems. Generally, these systems work as intended. Sometimes, though, the lithium genie gets out from the bottle, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Such a thing happens more regularly than you may think. Considering that the late 1990s and early 2000s, there has been a drum roll of product safety warnings and recalls of 24v lithium battery that have burned or blown up practically every sort 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 consider a minimum of one major fatal crash, an incident that prompted the FAA to issue a recommendation restricting their bulk carriage on passenger flights in 2010. In early 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization banned outright the shipment of lithium ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft.
And so the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco is not just a narrative of methods Samsung botched the rollout of its latest weapon in the smartphone wars. It’s a story regarding the nature of innovation in the postindustrial era, one who highlights the unintended consequences of your i . t revolution and globalization over the past 3 decades.
In essence, the real difference from a handy lithium battery and an incendiary you can be boiled right down to three things: how industry manufactures these products, the way integrates them into the applications they power, and the way users treat their battery-containing appliances. When a lithium rechargeable discharges, lithium ions layered on the negative electrode or anode (typically manufactured from graphite) lose electrons, which go deep into an outside circuit to complete useful work. The ions then migrate using a conductive material known as an electrolyte (usually an organic solvent) and grow lodged in spaces inside the positive electrode or cathode, a layered oxide structure.
There are lots of lithium battery chemistries, and some will be more stable than others. Some, like lithium cobalt oxide, a standard formula in electronic products, are really flammable. When such variants do ignite, the effect is really a blaze that may be hard to extinguish due to the battery’s self-contained availability of oxidant.
To make certain that such tetchy mixtures remain manageable, battery manufacturing requires exacting quality control. Sony learned this lesson if it pioneered lithium rechargeable battery technology within the late 1980s. Initially, the chemical process the organization employed to create the cathode material (lithium cobalt oxide) produced an extremely fine powder, the granules which had a high area. That increased the risk of fire, so Sony was required to invent a procedure to coarsen the particles.
An additional complication is lithium ion batteries have many failure modes. Recharging too fast or an excessive amount of might cause lithium ions to plate out unevenly on the anode, creating growths called dendrites which could bridge the electrodes and produce a short circuit. Short circuits will also be induced by physically damaging a battery, or improperly disposing of it, or just putting it right into a pocket containing metal coins. Heat, whether internal or ambient, could cause the flammable electrolyte to produce gases that may react uncontrollably along with other battery materials. This is called thermal runaway and it is virtually impossible to quit once initiated.
So lithium ion batteries needs to be equipped with numerous safety features, including current interrupters and gas vent mechanisms. The standard such feature will be the separator, a polymer membrane that prevents the electrodes from contacting one another and creating a short circuit that could direct energy into the electrolyte. Separators also inhibit dendrites, while offering minimal potential to deal with ionic transport. To put it briefly, the separator may be the last collection of defense against thermal runaway. Some larger multicell batteries, like the types employed in electric vehicles, isolate individual cells to contain failures and use elaborate and costly cooling and thermal management systems.
Some authorities ascribe Samsung’s battery crisis to difficulties with separators. Samsung officials seemed to hint that this might be the truth once they revealed that a manufacturing flaw had led the negative and positive electrodes to contact the other person. Whether the separator is definitely in the wrong will not be yet known.
At any rate, it is revealing that for Samsung, the thing is entirely the battery, not the smartphone. The implication is that higher quality control will solve the issue. Certainly it would help. Nevertheless the manufacturing of commodity electronics is way too complex because there being a simple solution here. There has always been an organizational, cultural, and intellectual gulf between those that create batteries and those who create electronics, inhibiting manufacturers from thinking of 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 outcome has been 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 method for designers of lithium cells to fulfill this demand would be to thin out separators to help make room for additional reactive material, creating thermal management problems and narrowed margins of safety.
Economic pressures further eroded these margins. In the 1990s, the rechargeable lithium battery sector was a highly competitive, low-margin industry covered with a couple of firms based mainly in Japan. From around 2000, these companies begun to move manufacturing to South Korea and China in operations initially plagued by extensive bugs and high cell scrap rates.
Many of these factors played a part within the notebook battery fire crisis of 2006. Numerous incidents prompted the largest recalls in electronic products history to this date, involving some 9.6 million batteries made by Sony. The company ascribed the issue to faulty manufacturing who had contaminated cells with microscopic shards of metal. Establishing quality control will certainly be a tall order so long as original equipment manufacturers disperse supply chains and outsource production.
One other issue is that makers of applications like notebooks and smartphones may not necessarily know how to properly integrate outsourced lithium cells into safe battery packs and applications. Sony hinted just as much through 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 all over the industry.
My analysis of U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls at that time (to become published in Technology & Culture in January 2017) implies that there seemed to be some truth to this particular. Nearly 50 % of the recalled batteries (4.2 million) in 2006 were for notebooks made by Dell, an organization whose business structure was based on 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 a huge selection of incidents of catastrophic battery failures dating to 2002. In comparison, relatively few reported incidents during those times involved Sony batteries in Sony computers.
In a way, then, the lithium ion battery fires are largely a consequence of the way we have structured society. We still don’t have uniform safety protocols for numerous types of problems relating to 18650 li ion battery, including transporting and disposing 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 search for more power and higher voltage is straining the physical limits of lithium ion batteries, and there are few technologies less forgiving in the chaotically single-minded manner in which humankind are increasingly making their way worldwide. Scientists will work on safer alternatives, but we ought to expect more unpleasant surprises in the existing technology inside the interim.