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Publisher's Blog

Gerry Woolf

A flaming embarrassment

09/11/2017

Looking for ways to make lithium-ion batteries safer? Well, don’t go to a battery safety conference, because you won’t learn much! At least I didn’t when I went to Cambridge EnerTech’s battery safety event last week in Arlington.

There’s a lot of interesting science around in terms of working out what happens when you short circuit a lithium-ion battery on a very expensive high energy X-ray source (the images are fantastic) but how that helps you, the manufacturer, prevent whatever that “natural” causative agent might be for this to happen seems about as likely as predicting the next self-styled lunatic with enough money (and guns) to carry out a massacre in the USA. 

It can’t be done.

As the Donald said: “This is not a guns issue.” And as to battery fires and failures, perhaps they are not a lithium-ion issue. If we didn’t have so many portable devices and electric vehicles, this would not be an issue at all… Of course, you’d have to plug your not-so-smart phone into a wall socket each time you wanted to check your mail and we’d all be connected ‘wiredly’ to do so much that we now take for granted. Or fire granted?

And this brings me to my final topic for this excuse for conference spleen venting… battery stand-up comedy!

It’s a new comedy form that is being developed by Joseph Nowikowski, almost the last act on the two-day event. Nowikowski, a fire investigator, managed to achieve laughs from fire scenes— before and after. Radio-controlled cars bursting into flames, caught on camera (security) in ‘man caves' all over the Union, dog teeth marks on a punctured battery found under a burned out sofa (we kid you not), not to mention the litany of stories of exploding vaping devices (missing teeth thrown in for more good measure) and laptops left charging on beds. All down to lithium-ion.

Nowikowski was right on the money. Sure, the insurance companies will pay out on the fire because they allow for peoples’ stupidity… but if they can show a defective battery was to blame, they’ll be after you. Another investigator in the audience said they had 120 open files on fires, with lithium batteries ‘in the firing line’, so to speak.

Nowikowski didn’t quite say, “if you can charge it, don’t leave it unattended”, but if I had felt like misrepresenting him, I could have sold that story to the so-called British newspaper, The Sun.

Joe public has no idea about the number of fake phone chargers there are in circulation, nor can they tell if a product has a BMS capable of detecting overcharge or thermal runaway in its earliest phase. They have no knowledge of UL and Interek’s safety standards and they like to buy cheap and nasty electronic products (‘cos they’re cheap!).

One day, the catalogue of errors that are ‘crap cells’ with flammable electrolytes will turn into the perfect storm and somewhere, perhaps, a lot of people will die, just like they did in London (thanks to flammable building materials) this summer. For other chemistries, it’s the equivalent of Weinstein’s alleged sex misdemeanours.

Isn’t it time you guys named and shamed?

 

The editor’s take

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