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UL Targets Lithium-Ion Battery Fires

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tekochip
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Platinum
A Good Vent
tekochip   8/5/2013 9:03:06 AM
Having recently been injured by a lithium battery explosion, I think a good vent
is important in the cell.  These cells build up pressure so rapidly that there
needs to be a means of safely releasing the pressure safely, not explosively.

Dr Bob
User Rank
Silver
Re: A Good Vent
Dr Bob   8/6/2013 9:25:16 AM
Many years (25+) ago I had it on good authority that Lithium batteries do not explode (ever). They rupture, sometimes with extreme prejudice, but never ever explode!

Jim S
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Gold
Re: A Good Vent
Jim S   8/6/2013 10:04:34 AM
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Extreme Prejudice, that's a good one. In other words a violent exothermic chemical reaction at an extremeny high rate. (Explosion for most of us). During the early years of developing Lithium batterys for downhole use a company I know of had an oven controller fail over the weekend and workers arrived monday morning to find the chamber destroyed, as well as the brick wall behind it. Luckily it contained the fire and did't set the lab on fire. we were always very careful after that to make sure we didn't short cells out.

Ralphy Boy
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Platinum
Re: A Good Vent
Ralphy Boy   8/8/2013 4:45:49 PM
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Around here we call 'extreme prejudice' 'spontaneous disassembly with report'. Which meets the rough definition of an explosion...

This is not so common for most consumer level single cell/small plastic pack applications, but we have tested to failure a few designs that absolutely go... BOOM!

Charles Murray
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Re: A Good Vent
Charles Murray   8/8/2013 6:00:27 PM
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As I always say, we've got smart readers around here. I had never heard of "rupture with extreme prejudice" nor "spontaneous diassembly with report." But I know those phrases now. Thank you for adding to my collection of engineering stoicisms.

Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: A Good Vent
Elizabeth M   8/6/2013 1:23:04 PM
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Wow, that's terrible that you were injured, tekochip, what happened? I hope this test prevents these things from happening in the future with lithium-ion batteries.

tekochip
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Platinum
Re: A Good Vent
tekochip   8/6/2013 1:51:23 PM
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I made a careless mistake and paid for in seconds.  The cell energetically disassembled without the slightest hint that it was aggravated with me.  As if the chemical burns weren't bad enough, the freed lithium also ignited, so I had to figure out if I wanted to wash my eyes out first or put out the little fires scattered across my workbench.


Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: A Good Vent
Elizabeth M   8/6/2013 1:53:57 PM
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Oh my gosh, that sounds horrible. I hope you are OK. I take it you have learned alot from this situation and I guess having some kind of guidelines or test to prevent such a thing in the future is something you would welcome. Take care!

tekochip
User Rank
Platinum
Re: A Good Vent
tekochip   8/6/2013 2:26:16 PM
Always wear your safety glasses in the lab.

 

I washed my eyes out first and just a few minor burns on my neck and face.

Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: A Good Vent
Elizabeth M   8/7/2013 7:58:38 AM
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That sounds like good advice, tekochip--in fact, it sounds a bit like a no brainer! But I guess an experienced engineer might get lazy sometimes with safety? I'm personally not an engineer and don't do a lot of work in a lab situation, so I wouldn't know, but I guess if you do something every day you might think you can slack a bit with the safety precautions. It's good to remind people not to! Glad you came out of the accident OK.

Tool_maker
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Platinum
Re: A Good Vent
Tool_maker   8/12/2013 1:05:49 PM
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@Dr Bob and tekochip: in my past I taught High school English and would have been proud to use your examples as how the language can be perfectly manipulated to hide what is being said. Not quite as good as collateral damage when referring to dead people, but still great examples.

tekochip
User Rank
Platinum
Re: A Good Vent
tekochip   8/12/2013 1:33:30 PM
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Funny you should mention that.  I picked up the phrase while in a technical writing class in college.  The professor had us study the Three Mile Island accident report which had colorful euphemisms like "energetic disassembly" for explosion and "rapid oxidation" for fire.


naperlou
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Blogger
Suprised UL is not already involved
naperlou   8/5/2013 9:15:35 AM
Chuvk, frankly, I am suprised that UL has not been involved in lithium-ion battery certification before now.  It seems that we have to have problems before it is decided that it would be good to have a third party certification.  With laptop batteries it took fire in some Apple laptops to get this going.  With cars and planes, again it seems that we needed fires before this was done.  Considering that the volatility of the chemistry was known at the start, this seems short sighted.

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Suprised UL is not already involved
Charles Murray   8/5/2013 6:16:24 PM
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Naperlou, UL previously had standards covering battery packs for portable applications using all kinds of cell chemistries, including lithium-ion. What's new here is that UL is creating an internal short circuit test method for inclusion in the lithium battery safety standardc UL 1642. This addresses the problem that has been written about a lot -- internal short circuits related to separator failure.  

Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: Suprised UL is not already involved
Elizabeth M   8/6/2013 1:34:02 PM
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I know what you mean, Lou, it seems like there has to be an incident with serious consequences before companies improve certain aspects of their products or, in the case of the airline industry, airplanes. But in all fairness, perhaps they weren't aware that there was potential for such problems in the first place. This is where more careful and attentive design with anything, especially lithium-ion batteries, must come into play.

Gorski
User Rank
Platinum
lithium-ion battrey fires
Gorski   8/5/2013 3:50:37 PM
Since there have been a spate of lithium-ion battery fires lately, I was surprised that UL is just now geting into the act. The overheating must have shown up before. Every battry made until now has not been perfect. Who was hiding this overheating problem, and why?

Gorski
User Rank
Platinum
lithium-ion battrey fires
Gorski   8/5/2013 3:50:47 PM
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Since there have been a spate of lithium-ion battery fires lately, I was surprised that UL is just now geting into the act. The overheating must have shown up before. Every battry made until now has not been perfect. Who was hiding this overheating problem, and why?

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: lithium-ion battrey fires
Charles Murray   8/5/2013 6:23:48 PM
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Up to now, the problem has been one of underestimating the potential overheating issues involving lithium-ion, Gorksi. This is a trap that has snared a few engineers. Better testing methods, particularly those that consider internal shorts, should help. The question is how many of the makers of big li-ion battery packs -- like those used in autos and aircraft -- will take advantage of this.  

Jim_E
User Rank
Platinum
I'm trying to avoid them....
Jim_E   8/6/2013 9:22:12 AM
While our cell phones, laptops and tables have them, I'm trying to avoid Lithium-Ion batteries elsewhere.  I'm a bit of a LED flashlight junkie, but I've avoided any that take the more powerful 18650 and 14500 Lithium-Ion batteries after reading about over-charging and over-discharging fires!

I'd love to have the extra power, but it's not worth the risk for me, especially if I can't just charge the things unattended.  Maybe I just need to build a concrete charging hood and place it on my granite countertops....

I'll just stick to AA and AAA for now until something better comes along that doesn't have the propensity to explode and catch fire.

D Hambley
User Rank
Silver
Is UL's indenting test valid?
D Hambley   8/6/2013 5:58:27 PM
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I really think UL has missed the point on this one. One of the mysteries concerning L-ion cell failures is why L-ion cells short in the first place! This "indenting test" which forces a short to make it fail will NOT test to see if a cell has been designed and built to avoid shorts. All it does is to test whether a cell overheats AFTER this mysterious short. It's like UL is saying, "it's OK to have a cell which mysteriously shorts. After a forced short though, we want to ensure that it doesn't overheat." I say go after the cause, not the result.

Tool_maker
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Is UL's indenting test valid?
Tool_maker   8/12/2013 12:56:24 PM
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@ D Hembley:Remember, it is always easier to predict rain than it is to build an ark, hence we see the problem pointed to, but not solved.

  Is Underwriters lab a government or private agency? Where does it get its funding? I was niave enough to think that all things electric must have a UL label.

MIROX
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Platinum
Packaging
MIROX   8/7/2013 4:57:34 AM
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I think it is great that someone be it UL or who ever can come up with some safety test, not just for Li Battery but for ANY battery.

From experience I also think that the entire "package" needs to be evaluated and tested, as for example I have seen more than one Golf Cart where the entire vehicle burned down, just because one battery wire was having too high a resistance and caused enough heat to not just melt a Lead-alloy post but ignite what ever was next to it, which in turn burned down the entire vehicle.

Other example may be the few Fisker cars, that burned for what ever reason, but one of them was apparently short in "cooling fan motor" that burned off entire 1/2 of front end of the car.

So NOT having easily flammable materials next to "potential" ignition source, be it extreme heat or spark, is also somthing about which engineers need to think about and design in appropriate safety.

I.e. if battery fails, for what ever reason, the device, be it computer or a car, should not be a total loss as a result !

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Indentation
Charles Murray   8/7/2013 8:34:05 PM
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The indentation tests used by UL bring to mind the GM battery solution of 2012. After a post-crash fire, GM beefed up the vehicle, adding a cross-bar structure and longitudinally-oriented members around the battery. They did this, despite the fact that the Volt fire was actually caused by spilling of coolant on a circuit board, not by indentation. Many people scratched their heads and asked why GM was beefing up the battery so much. Maybe the UL indentation test provides us a glimpse of their thinking.

bob from maine
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Platinum
Re: Indentation
bob from maine   8/12/2013 10:45:32 AM
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I seem to remember some years ago that a UPS aircraft either crashed or made an emergency landing because a bulk delivery of LiOn batteries overheated. I believe the FAA banned bulk shipment of lithium ion batteries as a result. Also reading about this technology for marine use has led me to believe that every battery cell needs to have a temperature and voltage monitor in order to regulate charge/discharge rate to prevent fires. In other articles it has been explained that the separators are made of a plastic which is thermally sensitive. I suspect UL has been reluctant to offer a test that would suggest that this technology is "Safe". The subject test only appears to demonstrate that when stressed in a particular fashion, the battery will not energiticaly disassemble. There is an awful lot of energy packed into any storage battery. None will survive having all that energy escape in seconds.

bobjengr
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Platinum
UL AND LITHIUM-ION BATTERY FIRES
bobjengr   8/9/2013 6:46:16 PM
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Great post Charles.    Years ago I was selected by my company to be the "agency" engineer; working with UL, IEC, ETL and AGA (now CSA).  It was a definite learning experience and I quickly found both UL and CSA were extremely knowledgeable and very forward leaning relative to standards and safety.   The professionalism displayed by UL was very refreshing and I came to rely on their years of experience for design guidance in several areas.  I think the "marriage" between NASA, Oak Ridge and UL will be extremely beneficial in mitigating safety issues with Lithium-Ion batteries.   

Christina_Phillips-Medisize
User Rank
Iron
Safer Batteries
Christina_Phillips-Medisize   8/19/2013 8:20:20 AM
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Great article. Individuals in our company have recently been sharing your article and would like to share with you, a link to Phillips-Medisize's breakthrough technology for safer batteries. The goal being, to enhance safety and minimize the combustibility of lithium ion batteries that you mentioned in your article. http://www.phillipsmedisize.com/case-studies/product-battery-safety

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Safer Batteries
Charles Murray   8/20/2013 7:06:26 PM
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Thanks for the link, Christina. I'll look at it.

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