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apresher
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Lithium Ion Batteries
apresher   3/28/2013 10:43:39 AM
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Chuck,  Thanks for this report. Excellent article on this technology problem and how it is being addressed.

Jerry dycus
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Gold
Re: Lithium Ion Batteries
Jerry dycus   3/29/2013 6:17:11 PM
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   Guess what folks this is going to happen in any high energy system.  You can't take new tech and put it in EV service and not have some problems.  Facts are I'm impressed they haven't had a lot more.

 

While some have problems like fire, most of that type were bypassed for more safe, stable ones.  Though I'd certainly would like a few of those MiEV or Tesla battery modules.

 

First rule in power design is you can get as much power as you can keep it cool.  Likely this or BMS problems is causing though QC can too as shown by the Sony battery recall.

Interesting my new battery drill lithium's seem to have a cut off once hitting minimal voltage built into the battery pack maybe.  So it looks like they are getting smarter.

Lithiums should be run between 95 and 10% as going passed either shortens life. Overcharging just 10% once can kill them so to keep them alive and well they need a tight BMS and temp control, neither a big deal but foolish to cut corners on.

 

 

tekochip
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Platinum
Manufacturing
tekochip   3/28/2013 12:30:11 PM
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It looks like, more than anything, a more robust manufacturing method needs to be defined.

Elizabeth M
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Definitely not good news
Elizabeth M   3/28/2013 12:47:04 PM
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Seems like we have a recurring problem here. I hope the industry gets this sorted out quickly. Do you think these types of findings could require major product recalls? That could be disastrous.

NadineJ
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Platinum
Re: Definitely not good news
NadineJ   3/28/2013 1:07:02 PM
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My first question when I saw the Article was "how big of a problem is this?"  This is a multi billion dollar industry that's been around for a while.

From what I understand, Boeing tried to push the technology forward and missed their mark.  I'm surprised to see this issue in the auto industry.

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Definitely not good news
Charles Murray   3/28/2013 6:40:07 PM
The Chevy Volt actually had a problem with a lithium-ion fire, too. In Chevy's case, though, the problem occurred after crash-testing, which is different than this. As to how big of a problem it was, I specifically asked Donald Sadoway of MIT, who is one of the world's foremost battery experts and founder of a grid storage battery company called Ambri, whether the media was making a big deal out of a small story. His full response: "The press is right to call attention to the precarious nature of Li-ion technology. It's one thing to have a fire in a plant. It's another to have a fire in a plane at 40,000 feet. Remember, Li-ion technology is 20 years old now. Shouldn't we have worked out the bugs by now?"

ChriSharek
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Gold
Re: Definitely not good news
ChriSharek   3/29/2013 9:16:52 AM
Charles, you should know better than to brought the Volt fire up . . . that fire had NOTHING to do with the lithium ion battery.  It was the coolant surrounding the battery that leaked on a circuit board that caused the short circuit.  It was NOT the Li battery. 

Shame on you, Charles . . .

Charles Murray
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Re: Definitely not good news
Charles Murray   3/29/2013 10:30:09 AM
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You raise a very good point about the Volt fire, ChriSharek. However, I'm going to take a slight issue with what you've said. The truth is that the battery cells had nothing to do with the Volt fire, but the battery pack did. You're correct that the fire occurred after coolant leaked onto a printed circuit board at the top of the battery pack. Let's remember, though, that the coolant is there precisely because this is an energetic chemistry. And when GM fixed the Volt, all of the fixes were done to the battery pack. They beefed up the battery safety cage to resist the kinds of forces seen in the NHTSA tests; they added a sensor to monitor battery coolant levels; they provided a tamper-resistant bracket to prevent overfilling of the battery's coolant reservoir. Perhaps we're both putting too fine a point on it, but all these components are part of the battery, and they wouldn't have been there in the first place if lithium-ion cells didn't have such an edgy chemistry. To say that the fire had "nothing" to do with the lithium-ion battery is incorrect.

ChriSharek
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Gold
Re: Definitely not good news
ChriSharek   3/29/2013 10:58:10 AM
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Good points, Charles.  I guess what I'm trying to say is that the battery in the Volt didn't cause the fire - like the Mitzubishi or Boeing.  In those fires, the cause of the fire was the battery.

Regardless, the ignorant media will smear this bad news all over EVs.  Very bad news for the industry.

Charles Murray
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Re: Definitely not good news
Charles Murray   3/29/2013 11:04:59 AM
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We're in agreement, ChriSharek. The Mitsubishi and Boeing fires were indeed different than the Volt's.

bobjengr
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Platinum
Re: Definitely not good news
bobjengr   3/29/2013 11:12:36 AM
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Great post Charles--OK, I'm probably going to show my ignorance here but I'm not close to being a battery expert.

QUESTION:  When overheating begins--is this a cascading event?  Does it always have to end with a catastrophic failure?    I know we have cause/effect situations but is there any way to monitor temperature rise and dissipate that rise by appropriate cooling?  I'm sure all companies using this technology have evaluated any contribution from surrounding sources.  Are there any trends regarding installation and mounting of the battery?   Again--great post and thank you for keeping us up to date. 

kburnssr
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Iron
Re: Definitely not good news
kburnssr   3/29/2013 11:42:18 AM
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It has been my experience that battery engineers over-charge the batteries. It doesn't surprise me that most of these battery failures occur when the vehicles are sitting and being charged. As the battery approaches full state of charge, the energy going into the battery to charge it winds up as heat. You need to measure heat dissipation at the battery assembly level. Battery heat dissipation varies as a function of state-of-charge, voltage, battery temperature, and charge current. Batteries are typically endothermic when charged at low states of charge, but they rapidly become endothermic as you approach full state of charge. We typically size the battery cooling for 3.5 watts/amp of discharge.

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Definitely not good news
Charles Murray   3/29/2013 11:57:56 AM
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I'm going to take a pass on your thermal runaway questions, bobjengr, other than to say the obvious: Overheating can lead to a cascading event. As to when overheating turns into thermal runaway...we would need a material scientist or better, a lithium-ion battery expert, to go into greater detail. Perhaps a reader who is familiar with thermal runaway can chime in. As for battery monitoring: Yes, all of today's lithium-ion EV batteries use battery management systems that check for over-temperature, over-voltage and over-current conditions. Usually the battery managment system consists of a little IC that contains a microcontroller, memory and an A/D converter. Temperature measurements typically require a multitude of sensors around the battery pack. Toyota uses about 40 sensors around the pack in its Prius PHV plug-in hybrid. And, yes, the cooling systems can respond to those conditions. Toyota uses an active cooling systems with three or more fans. Chevy uses 144 metal plates with channels machined into them to allow for liquid coolant to run between the battery's 288 cells and draw the heat away, in a manner similar to that of an engine block and radiator. As you suggest, all of the automakers have put tremendous development effort into the design of these systems. But as recent events suggest, they're still learning.

Phil Pearce
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Silver
Re: Definitely not good news
Phil Pearce   4/2/2013 3:23:58 PM
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Thermal runaway refers to rapid self-heating of a cell derived from the exothermic chemical reaction of the highly oxidizing positive electrode and the highly reducing negative electrode. In a thermal runaway reaction, a cell rapidly releases its stored energy. The more energy a cell has stored, the more energetic a thermal runaway reaction will be. The reasons lithium-ion cell thermal runaway reactions can be very energetic is these cells have very high-energy densities and these cells contain flammable electrolyte, and thus, not only do they store electrical energy in the form of chemical potential energy, they store appreciable chemical energy in the form of combustible materials.

If one cell in a pack undergoes a thermal runaway reaction, typically in the 70 to 90°C (158 to 194°F) range, it is likely to cause thermal runaway in adjacent cells by way of various heat transfer mechanisms: direct cell-to-cell contact, impingement of hot vent gases, or impingement of flaming vent gases.  My work on understanding lithium-ion cell faults has shown that prior to any temperature rise leading to the onset of thermal runaway the cell or cells begin to swell or balloon, by discovering a practical method of detecting this physical deformation at an early stage we have developed a system that is able to respond, before any temperature rise is detected, and prevent thermal runaway or any further reaction or combustion ever taking place.   

phil.pearce@ieee.org

Charles Murray
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Re: Definitely not good news
Charles Murray   4/2/2013 8:39:29 PM
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Thank you, Phil_Pearce, for a succint explanation of thermal runaway. It's nice to know we have smart readers at Design News.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Definitely not good news
Elizabeth M   4/3/2013 4:12:54 AM
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Thanks so much for that description of the thermal runway, Phil. I understand the issue so much better now. It's interesting to consider the root of the problem and the ways the industry is working to counteract that.

tekochip
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Platinum
Re: Definitely not good news
tekochip   4/3/2013 7:50:15 AM
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Car fires should never be overlooked. A number of years ago a good friend of mine died in a car fire. Bob had borrowed a car and was unfamiliar with the electric door locks which locked as soon as the vehicle was put in drive. Pulling on the door latch would not unlock the door, you had to pull the lock pin or use the door switch, then pull on the latch. The power steering pump on the car seized and started a fire that quickly filled the interior with smoke. The autopsy said Bob died in less than thirty seconds from the toxic fumes, and witnesses said that he was pounding on the windows trying to get out.


Charles Murray
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Re: Definitely not good news
Charles Murray   4/3/2013 6:31:26 PM
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What a terrible incident. Yes, it's one more reason why potential car fires should never be overlooked. But it also says something about the non-intuitive nature of some of the systems on board today's vehicles. If the doorlock system had been more intuitive, your friend would almost certainly still be alive today.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Definitely not good news
Elizabeth M   4/4/2013 6:42:39 AM
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That is a terrible story, tekochip, and I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. This illustrates why it's so important to make these technologies safe before putting them out there on the market. I actually think sometimes these type of electric systems in new cars can do more harm than good especially in situations of a malfunction in which someone wants to get out of a car, which your story very sadly shows.

bobjengr
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Platinum
Re: Definitely not good news
bobjengr   4/5/2013 12:06:36 PM
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Many thanks Charles for the explanation.  These systems are significantly more complex than I had envisioned.  Again, great post--good information.  Bob

jmiller
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Platinum
Re: Definitely not good news
jmiller   3/31/2013 12:00:21 PM
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It's too bad that not only will the media paint the picture wrong on what the cause was.  But the general public will swallow the story hook line and sinker.  Often I wish there were a design news TV station that could report the facts of what happened and let us determine the truth.  Probabluy not coming any time soon.

jmiller
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Platinum
Re: Definitely not good news
jmiller   3/31/2013 11:53:58 AM
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Good point.  The statement that the fire had to do with the battery system may be the most accurate.  While the fire wasn't caused by the battery it was in fact caused by the battery system.

Stuart21
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Silver
Re: Definitely not good news
Stuart21   9/23/2013 1:29:04 PM
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But it had something to do with the battery -

jmiller
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Platinum
Re: Definitely not good news
jmiller   3/31/2013 11:50:10 AM
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I agree there is quite a difference between a fire on the ground or at 40,000 feet.  I guess that's why the design requirements are so stringent for aeronautical components.  However, it would really stink to have ones car catch on fire while doing 70.  Perhaps I missed it or I'm a little confused, is the fire issue contained to accidents or during everyday operation?

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Definitely not good news
Charles Murray   3/28/2013 6:33:21 PM
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A recall is a possibility, Liz. Mitsubishi has not made an announcement as yet.

jmiller
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Platinum
Re: Definitely not good news
jmiller   3/31/2013 11:42:55 AM
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I am concerned that a company could get to the point of having to recall something like this.  How was it not caught in testing?

naperlou
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Blogger
Re: Definitely not good news
naperlou   3/31/2013 9:26:20 PM
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jmiller, good point about this not being caught in testing.  These events do not happen often, but they could be catastrophic.  There was an incident in China, with an all electric taxi, where the taxi was hit by a ICE powered car.  The battery in the taxi caused a fire that killed the driver and passengers immediatly.  The other car drove away.  In China they do a lot less testing.  On the other hand, even with the more extensive testing done in the US and Japan, the failure modes with this technology may be hard to stimulate.

Greg M. Jung
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Platinum
Next Generation Battery Technologies
Greg M. Jung   3/28/2013 9:38:15 PM
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It seems the that current lithium-ion technology has to find a safe, reliable way to counteract the energetic and rapid discharge nature of these batteries before wide-spread adoption should truly be deployed.

 

Is there another battery technology appearing on the horizon soon that is safer than lithium-ion?

a.saji
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Silver
Re: Next Generation Battery Technologies
a.saji   3/29/2013 12:02:40 AM
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@Greg: Lithium Batteries always had this issue and it happened to something else sometime back. I simply cannot see why they did not see it coming their way after knowing the impacts

Charles Murray
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Re: Next Generation Battery Technologies
Charles Murray   3/29/2013 11:02:06 AM
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That's a very timely question, Greg. And the answer is, yes, there is a safer chemistry on the horizon. We haven't written about it yet because it's still in the early stages (as far as I know), but there are soild state lithium batteries that eliminate the liquid electrolyte, and are therefore regarded as being safer. Toyota is working on a solid state lithium "super-ionic" battery. As with all battery research, however, the schedule is unclear. I've heard projections of 10 years for solid state lithium. And, typically, when battery researchers say ten years, it means more than ten years. Perhaps one of our readers is familiar with the solid state lithium technology and can provide a little more info here.

ChriSharek
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Gold
Air or liquid cooled?
ChriSharek   3/29/2013 9:15:11 AM
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Was this battery air-cooled like the Nissan Leaf and Boeing, or liquid cooled like the Volt and the new Ford PHEV and EVs? 

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Air or liquid cooled?
Charles Murray   3/29/2013 10:12:46 AM
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The Outlander uses air cooling, ChriSharek.

g_ost
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Gold
Re: Air or liquid cooled?
g_ost   3/29/2013 1:01:19 PM
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It looks like the liquid electrolyte will be always a barrier to manufacture safe batteries. Solid electrolytes cells are underdeveloped yet but will come in the close future. Thin Film Battery is the answer to all safety issues, I believe, but the manufacturers are able to deliver only very low power ones. There is no market for TFBs yet but maybe someday low power devices will be powered by TFBs. In my opinion the EVs are to heavy, it makes no sense to continue to build cars like in the XX century. We need to move away from the concept 20 to 1 - 20 times more weight to cary a person. Than we will need less energy to move. I'm waiting for 2014, BMW will introduce the carbon fiber car - maybe this is the future of mobility.

ChasChas
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Platinum
????
ChasChas   3/29/2013 10:36:02 AM
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"In a lithium-ion battery, you've got electrodes that are tens of microns from one another," (Apparently the biggest problem.)

Charles, any info on why it is so hard to space these eletrodes out a bit?

William K.
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Platinum
Re: ????
William K.   3/29/2013 11:25:28 AM
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@ChasChas: the reason that the battery electrodes are so very close is that they need to be close to avoid losses in the electrolyt, and also to keep the batteries compact.

On the other hand, it might be possible to build the batteries in a manner similar to those "self-healing" capacitors that appeared during the early 1960s era. The concept was that a short circuit would result in burning away a small segment of the electrodes in the area of the fault, removing the shorted circuit connection. Of course, there may be some very good reasons why that would not work in a battery like this but it certainly seems that it could be worth cnsidering. An added advantage is that it is certainly not a new concept.

warren@fourward.com
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Platinum
Lithium-Ion Batteries
warren@fourward.com   3/29/2013 3:51:04 PM
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I wonder, did Boeing make these batteries, too?  Har, har!

It looks like the battery problem just won't go away.  And from the responses thus far, it isn't going away.

One problem with BJT transistors (I know, BJT already includes the word Transistor) is thermal runaway.  FETs  just shut themselves down when they get too hot, more or less.  I can see batteries have the same problem as the chemical reaction increases with heat, I assume.  We just have to figure out an FET version.

Heat is our enemy in so many cases.  If we are going to use high energy batteries to replace so many internal combustion engines, then I guess we better figure out what the problems are.  I know in the beginning of the steam engine and internal combustion engine there were many problems to overcome.  Exploding boilers, head gaskets blowing through, gas tanks exploding (thanks to the media), and so on had to be overcome.  So shall it be with the big league batteries.

 

 

simonts
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Iron
This cannot be true
simonts   3/29/2013 5:19:20 PM
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If indeed GS Yuasa has managed to destroy not only LiCo lithium ion batteris in the 787 but also LiMnO2 Li ion batteries, as this article states, then there is something fundamentally and hopelessly flawed in their manufatcuring and/or quality assurance processes. I would be very suprised if their battery cells were not manufactiued in China at a cheap place lacking adequate cleanliness and quality standards, instead of in Japan. LiMnO2 LiIon batteries with their spinell structure, are inherently free of thermal run-away, at least theoretically. Based on everything I have read lately I would not buy anything with a GS Yuasa made LiIon battery in it, no one should. Yuasa's manegement is probably new and inexperienced (not to mention driven by profit and nothing else) and has never heard of Demming and his methods of improving quality which made Japanese qualty the envy of the world about 2-3 decades ago. 

dbg
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Silver
This actually demonstrates the technology is safe
dbg   3/30/2013 1:42:15 PM
So a few cells burned, but the fire was contained and did not propagate.  The vehicle was not destroyed.

Compare that to 100,000 gasoline vehicle fires in a typical year in the USA.  Now tell me what kind of car you'd rather be driving... one full of dangerous flammable fluids and vapors, or one with well-protected and contained LiIon batteries?

Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: This actually demonstrates the technology is safe
Elizabeth M   4/2/2013 6:11:47 AM
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Well I understand this opinion, dbg, but if this happened on a larger scale, it could be really dangerous. I don't think those who manufactured the products this happened to have such a cavalier attitidue. Of course, gasoline-filled vehicles perhaps are more dangerous in general, but the engineering is such at this point that we don't worry about gas engines just blowing up randomly. I'm sure once these batteries are fine tuned, we will feel the same way about them. For now, there still has to be some effort taken to do this.

dbg
User Rank
Silver
Re: This actually demonstrates the technology is safe
dbg   4/2/2013 3:53:44 PM
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On the contrary, you probably should worry about gasoline cars "blowing up" given the statistics. See http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/pdf/vehicleexecsum.pdf - there are an average of 287,000 vehicle fires in the USA every year, causing an average of 480 deaths.  Three quarters of these fires were caused by mechanical problems.

It's precisely because of engineering the battery systems properly that these systems can be made very safe.  Now I don't know if Mitsubishi battery packs are as safe as Tesla's, but you can be sure their engineers did not take a cavalier attitude to safety.

 

Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: This actually demonstrates the technology is safe
Elizabeth M   4/3/2013 3:32:35 AM
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Yikes, I didn't know those statistics about car fires, dbg. It is a bit scary. And yes, battery designs can be made safe, but it seems like some of them haven't quite gotten there yet. I'm sure they will.

Gorski
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Platinum
LI battery problems in Mitsubishi vehicles.
Gorski   4/4/2013 9:38:46 PM
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It seems that everyone is having problems with these batteries at the same time. If this is new technology why wasn't it tested more rigourusly in the lab and test beds? Is this a case where sales said 'We have to be first and damn the torpedoes of failure."

Gorski
User Rank
Platinum
LI battery problems in Mitsubishi vehicles.
Gorski   4/4/2013 9:38:46 PM
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It seems that everyone is having problems with these batteries at the same time. If this is new technology why wasn't it tested more rigourusly in the lab and test beds? Is this a case where sales said 'We have to be first and damn the torpedoes of failure."

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: LI battery problems in Mitsubishi vehicles.
Charles Murray   4/10/2013 7:02:45 PM
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I think that engineers have repeatedly underestimated the dangers of lithium-ion, Gorksi. Fifteen years ago, I interviewed Donald Sadoway of MIT and he predicted (in 1998) that engineers would need to be very, very careful with this chemistry, or it would cause problems. It now appears he was right.



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