I have to agree with TIm that this is more likely a case of fear being raised over a relatively new and unknown technology rather than a some sort of sustainable threat. Yet it does give me cause for concern and make me wonder about additional design considerations that could help protect against the fire threat, however small. There is actually some precedent--several years back, I remember an Apple recall on littium ion battieries used in its laptops because there were reports of them catching fire. I'm wondering if there are parallels?
It was 1997 and I had just seen my very first Lithium cell pack for a cell phone.I was the Accessories Products Development Engineering Manager for the Motorola iDEN phones.We had recently migrated from the long-standing NiCd batteries to Nickel Metal Hydride (NmH) technology as a green initiative to eliminate Cadmium, but that initiative was short-lived as Lithium promised higher capacities and greater number of charge/discharge cycles, although costing a bit more than the NiCd or the NmH.500 million cell packs later, the only fires or faults we had documented were due to non-standard charging equipment; usually from a Chinese 3rd party knock-off charger that didn’t include the proper thermistors or relevant safety circuitry.Its like Nuclear Power.Follow the rules established and it will serve dutifully. I hate to see Li-Ion get a bad rap.
There's always been far too much hype around electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries, and the recent Volt fires are no exception to that. Yes, the electrolyte in lithium batteries is a highly flammable liquid but, as Brian points out, there's nothing new about that. We've known about it for a long time. The truth is, we really don't have any reliable details on the cause of these fires, but we can definitely say this: If an improperly-constructed gasoline-burning car had burst into flames, it would have been a far worse accident, and it would have happened a lot faster than three weeks.
I really do not know if the LiON batteries catch fire. I find it hard to imagine that Volts randomly burst into flames, but I can guarantee that gasoline which is the alternative to batteries is higly flammable, A spark while fueling has a real chance of igniting vapors of gasoline. However, it is still common to see people smoking while filling up at the local 7-Eleven. This seems to be a case of fear of new technology showing fears that may or may not be warranted.
There's always an aspect to these stories where they take on a life of their own, regardless of what the facts turn out to be. A case in point is the Toyota unintended acceleration of a few years ago. The more distance one gets from that, the more it looks like driver error was the cause in a lot of so-called instances. Not saying that's the case here, but I am saying, as Brian notes, we need to wait for a full investigation before jumping to conclusions. For example, if you looked at 100 percent of charging systems for everything, you'd find some fires.
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Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.