Improving lithium-ion battery safety

The lithium-ion battery is a staple of modern life, used in applications from smartphones and tablets to vehicles and medical devices. In certain conditions, however, they can overheat and explode, causing significant safety issues that have been well documented in recent times.

NPL is part of a collaboration with University College London, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the University of Warwick and Diamond Light Source, researching how lithium-ion batteries behave under short-circuit conditions.

For the research, short circuits were initiated inside the batteries at pre-determined locations and monitored using high-speed X-ray imaging, to assess the damage in real time and see how thermal runaway spread throughout the battery cells. The cells went from being completely intact to being completely destroyed within around one second.

The findings show the importance of isolating failing cells to prevent dangerous chain reactions of battery failures, and will help to improve reliability and safety of lithium-ion batteries in the future.

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