Samsung’s massive global recall of its lithium battery has once more focused attention in the hazards of lithium ion batteries-specifically, the potential health risks of lithium ion batteries exploding. Samsung first announced the recall on Sept. 2, and merely every week later it took the extraordinary step of asking customers to immediately power across the phones and exchange them for replacements. The Government Aviation Administration issued a powerful advisory asking passengers to not utilize the Note 7 as well as stow it in checked baggage. Airlines around the world hastened to ban in-flight use and charging of the device.
Lithium rechargeable batteries are ubiquitous and, thankfully, the vast majority work just great. These are industry’s favored power source for wireless applications because of their extended run times. One can use them in everything from power tools to e-cigarettes to Apple’s new wireless earbuds. And more often than not, consumers take them as a given. In a way, this battery is definitely the ultimate technological black box. Many are bundled into applications and therefore are not generally available for retail sale. Accordingly, the technology is basically from sight and from mind, plus it will not get the credit it deserves for an enabler in the mobile computing revolution. Indeed, the lithium rechargeable battery is as important as the miniaturized microprocessor in this connection. It may 1 day alter the face of automobile transport as being a power source for electric vehicles.
So it will be impossible to imagine modern life without lithium ion power. But society has taken a calculated risk in proliferating it. Scientists, engineers, and corporate planners long ago made a Faustian bargain with chemistry when they created this technology, whose origins date on 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 from the bottle, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
This happens more often than you might 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 who 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 factor in at least one major fatal crash, an incident that prompted the FAA to issue a recommendation restricting their bulk carriage on passenger flights in 2010. During 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 story of how Samsung botched the rollout from the latest weapon within the smartphone wars. It’s a tale concerning the nature of innovation from the postindustrial era, one that highlights the unintended consequences of your information technology revolution and globalization over the last three decades.
Essentially, the visible difference from a handy lithium battery plus an incendiary one can be boiled to three things: how industry manufactures these products, the way it integrates them in to the applications they power, and how users treat their battery-containing appliances. When a lithium rechargeable discharges, lithium ions layered onto the negative electrode or anode (typically made of graphite) lose electrons, which get into an external circuit to do useful work. The ions then migrate using a conductive material referred to as an electrolyte (usually an organic solvent) and be lodged in spaces within the positive electrode or cathode, a layered oxide structure.
There are a number of lithium battery chemistries, plus some are definitely more stable than others. Some, like lithium cobalt oxide, a standard formula in electronic products, are very flammable. When such variants do ignite, the end result can be a blaze that can be difficult to extinguish owing to the battery’s self-contained supply of oxidant.
To ensure that such tetchy mixtures remain in order, battery manufacturing requires exacting quality control. Sony learned this lesson in the event it pioneered lithium rechargeable battery technology from the late 1980s. At the beginning, the chemical process the corporation utilized to make your cathode material (lithium cobalt oxide) produced a very fine powder, the granules in which possessed a high area. That increased the chance of fire, so Sony had to invent a procedure to coarsen the particles.
One more complication is the fact lithium ion batteries have several failure modes. Recharging too fast or an excessive amount of may cause lithium ions to plate out unevenly around the anode, creating growths called dendrites that could bridge the electrodes and create a short circuit. Short circuits can be induced by physically damaging battery power, or improperly getting rid of it, or simply just putting it in a pocket containing metal coins. Heat, whether internal or ambient, can cause the flammable electrolyte to build gases which may react uncontrollably with other battery materials. This is called thermal runaway which is virtually impossible to quit once initiated.
So lithium ion batteries must be built with numerous security features, including current interrupters and gas vent mechanisms. The most basic such feature may be the separator, a polymer membrane that prevents the electrodes from contacting the other person and developing a short circuit that will direct energy in the electrolyte. Separators also inhibit dendrites, while offering minimal effectiveness against ionic transport. In a nutshell, the separator is definitely the last type of defense against thermal runaway. Some larger multicell batteries, like the types utilized 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 issues with separators. Samsung officials appeared to hint that this can be the truth once they revealed that a manufacturing flaw had led the negative and positive electrodes get in touch with each other. If the separator is in fact at fault is not really yet known.
At any rate, it is actually revealing that for Samsung, the problem is entirely battery, not the smartphone. The implication is the fact better quality control will solve the issue. Without doubt it would help. But the manufacturing of commodity electronics is too complex because there being an easy solution here. There has been an organizational, cultural, and intellectual gulf between people who create batteries and people who create electronics, inhibiting manufacturers from considering applications and batteries as holistic systems. This estrangement is further accentuated from the offshoring and outsourcing of industrial research, development, and manufacturing, a results of the competitive pressures of globalization.
The end result 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 best and cheapest method for designers of lithium cells in order to meet this demand was to thin out separators to create room for more reactive material, creating thermal management problems and narrowed margins of safety.
Economic pressures further eroded these margins. During the 1990s, the rechargeable lithium battery sector was a highly competitive, low-margin industry covered with a few firms based mainly in Japan. From around 2000, these businesses started to move manufacturing to South Korea and China in operations initially plagued by extensive bugs and cell scrap rates.
Every one of these factors played a role inside the notebook battery fire crisis of 2006. Numerous incidents prompted the most important recalls in consumer electronics history to that date, involving some 9.6 million batteries manufactured by Sony. The business ascribed the problem to faulty manufacturing that had contaminated cells with microscopic shards of metal. Establishing quality control will be a tall order provided that original equipment manufacturers disperse supply chains and outsource production.
Additional problems is the fact that makers of applications like notebooks and smartphones may well not necessarily understand how to properly integrate outsourced lithium cells into safe battery packs and applications. Sony hinted the maximum amount of in 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 across the industry.
My analysis of Usa Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls at that time (to become published in Technology & Culture in January 2017) suggests that there might have been some truth to this particular. Nearly 1 / 2 of the recalled batteries (4.2 million) in 2006 were for notebooks created by Dell, a firm whose business model was based on integrating cheap outsourced parts and minimizing in-house R&D costs. In August 2006, the newest York Times cited a former Dell employee who claimed the 02dexspky had suppressed countless incidents of catastrophic battery failures dating to 2002. As opposed, 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 results of how we have structured our society. We still don’t have uniform safety protocols for a wide variety of problems associated with 3.7v lithium 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 look for greater convenience, and profit, in electronics and electric automobiles. The pursuit of more power and better voltage is straining the physical limits of lithium ion batteries, there are few technologies less forgiving in the chaotically single-minded way in which humans are increasingly making their way worldwide. Scientists are working on safer alternatives, but we should expect many more unpleasant surprises through the existing technology within the interim.