Lithium-ion Batteries in Consumer Goods: Risk Management and other...

Lithium-ion Batteries in Consumer Goods: Risk Management and other Potentials

Energy CIO Insights | Friday, July 30, 2021

Lithium-ion batteries are used in incredibly wide range of consumer devices, such as smartphones, smartwatches and laptop computers, as well as electric cars, power tools, and medical equipment. The storage capacity of lithium-ion technology is the primary reason for its widespread use. Lithium-ion batteries are an efficient energy source for electronics due to their small size, lightweight, and low cost.

There are, unfortunately, several, potentially safety-critical drawbacks of the lithium-ion batteries as well, making it an important priority to raise awareness on proper use, management and future production.

Exposure to severe temperatures (both hot and cold), mechanical damage (Li-ion batteries that have been exposed to stresses may function normally but they become more sensitive to mechanical abuse), such as crushing or puncturing, overcharging can all result in internal faults like short circuits, thermal runaways. Thermal runaway is the rapid release of heat and energy from the battery. This phenomena has the potential to result in fires or explosions.

Usually, lithium-ion batteries come with standards and instructions for correct use, charging, and storage; breaking or ignoring any of these criteria can harm the battery - compromise performance and, in the worst-case scenario, result in teaming, fire, explosion. When was the last time you read one of these instructions?

How to react to Hissing, Flaming, Exploding Batteries?

Lithium-ion battery fires are considered more dangerous from the standard older battery fires as lithium-ion batteries let out a flammable toxic vapor which even produces its own fuel.

If a lithium-ion battery overheats, fizzles, or increases in size:

- immediately move the subject from flammable items,

- place it on a non flammable, ignitable surface.

- If possible, remove the battery and put it outdoors to burn out.

- Simply disconnecting the battery from the charge may not stop the outcome

Putting out a small lithium-ion fire is carried on through standard procedures. A foam extinguisher is used for a best result with small fires of this sort, however, drastic improvements need to take place to not only fix the occurring situation, but also to prevent and predict those from happening.

Sure, the technology of managing or monitoring lithium-ion batteries is still in its infancy. Improvements in this technology and overall in the industry are constant (such as integrated battery management systems (BMS) and more stable internal chemistries), resulting in lithium batteries that are potentially safer than, especially their lead-acid predecessors.

Alas, the daily news about lithium-ion battery related incidents, be it in small consumer goods heating up on aircrafts or burning EVs with severely hot flames on the road - clearly shows that currently there isn’t a Battery Management System that has fully solved the most important - thermal issues with the batteries.

By now, it is easy to notice that most of the issues with these batteries accrue internally. Before an actual thermal runaway happens, there are a number of anomalies that cause and reflect the potential thermal runaway, and many other issues with the batteries (i. e. decreased efficiency, lower shelf life).

Fundamentally, the best solution seems to be gathering the information from inside these batteries during the lifetime of the battery use - to detect, predict and prevent the issues, as reacting just isn’t enough when it comes to safety critical applications.

Surely a client (no matter if it's a large industrial company or a usual consumer) wouldn’t be happy, with additional maintenance responsibility (when was the last time you read, properly implemented the charging description of your laptop computer?). At the end of the day, purchasing a device, a tool, customers expect it to serve them properly, an explosion is not a proper customer experience execution when it comes to smartphones. Surely the maintenance has to take place, and in case of lithium batteries, due to the safety risk - it is now a communal responsibility.

RVmagnetics introduces the future of wireless measuring with its smallest passive sensor of physical quantities in the world. This means information directly from within the battery. These sensors are thin as human hair, making them a good fit for both small and large batteries.

Sending precise real-time data, regarding a wide range of physical quantities like temperature, pressure, vibrations, directly from internal local destination - is to ensure thermal management, thus decreasing safety threats as well as ensure proper performance with minimum or no change on physical design (weighth, size, etc.).

Does increasing safety and effectiveness for both producer and the customer sound too good to be true?

Knowing the effects on the economic side of things, let’s try to fix those, and look back in the end: we might just find ourselves theoretically solved the most important - safety risks.

1. Thermal, magnetic, electric information from within the battery: the data that the MicroWire sensors can provide from i.e every cell of the battery is a unique, exceptional way to know if the charge properly travels through each cell (especially in real-time) if some of the cells are over/underheating if the electricity input/output problem is from connecting the battery or battery cells - it is now possible to know, and not guess or estimate.

The chemicals in the battery can gradually solidify (not limited to, but largely in cold environments) by this stop being "productive", this spreads like fungus or roots and may poke the separator causing short circuit, thus thermal runaway.

2. Predictive and Preventive maintenance:

Enabling Predictive and Preventive maintenance with the MicroWire Sensors and the custom developed sensing system is unlike most BMSs, as this system is able to provide local internal data, with extreme accuracy and frequency of up to 10000x/sec.

It is also largely known that Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence is as good as the data they use - with the volume and quality of the data provided with MicroWire sensors - the batteries become safe, smart and efficient.

3.Minimum or no design changes would need to take place to have all of the above mentioned. After all, once the R&D activities are performed - adding tiny to no effort per unit, the MicroWire sensors and the sensing system solves multiple issues (thermal management, mechanical abuse detection, increased maintenance effectiveness) with one system.

4. Even when the battery is visibly destroyed, our sensors can still come in handy.

Stranded energy especially in case of the Electric Vehicles make the lithium-ion fire even more dangerous. The fire may be put down by firefighters, but as there is still some condensed energy left inside - it can catch on fire again.

The MicroWire sensors can help to make sure that there are no more chemical liquids left inside the battery, they add no ignition risks due to contactless sensing system and risk no chemical interaction with the battery's internal chemistry due to resistance to the heavy chemical environment.

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