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Origin, but not cause, of Dreamliner battery fire announced

Fri, 02/08/2013 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has announced the origin of the fire on the Japan AirLines Boeing Dreamliner, January 7th. The battery was believed to have had an “initiating event” in one of its eight cells; this was assessed using the flight data recorder and evidence form the thermal and mechanical damage.

The cell identified as the starting point “showed multiple signs of short-circuiting, leading to thermal runaway condition, which then cascaded to other cells.” The evidence suggests the cells reached 260oC.

Chairman of NTSB, Deborah Hersman, said potential causes of the initiating short circuit being evaluated include battery charging, the design and construction of the battery, and the possibility of defects introduced during the manufacturing process.

The cause of the short circuit remains unknown and further investigations will focus upon design and certification requirements of the battery system.

During its certification process Boeing considered the types of failures that might affect the battery, following tests it found no evidence that cell-to-cell spread or fire would be a problem and that smoke emitting from the cell would not occur during more than one in ten million flight hours.

Solid electrolyte for lithium-ion

Wed, 02/06/2013 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

Scientists as Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a solid electrolyte for lithium-ion batteries that will provide greater energy density. The substance is made by manipulating lithium-thiophosphate so that it could conduct ions 1000 times faster than in its natural bulk form. The researchers used nanostructuring to alter the structure of the crystals that make up the material.

By altering it in this way, the solid electrolyte was not flammable as a liquid electrolyte would be. Chengdu Liang, who led the study, said: "Cycling highly reactive lithium metal in flammable organic electrolytes causes serious safety concerns," Liang said. "A solid electrolyte enables the lithium metal to cycle well, with highly enhanced safety."

The team developed the solid electrolyte by refining lithium-thiophosphate until it could conduct ions at a faster rate than in its natural state.

"We started with a conventional material that is highly stable in a battery system - in particular one that is compatible with a lithium metal anode," said Liang.

One of the research paper’s coauthors, Adam Rondinone, said the method can be scaled up to create large amounts of the material based on the same nanostructuring.

EU move 'deeply regrettable' on REACH

Thu, 01/17/2013 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

Battery making in Europe still hangs in the balance as lead remains under scrutiny by the European Commission’s REACH division. Four lead compounds irreplaceable in battery making were formally added to the candidate list in December 2012.

If authorised, battery makers would incur a significant cost to continue using them. Lead monoxide, lead tetroxide, tetralead trioxide sulphate and pentalead tetraoxide sulphate were added to the REACH list following proposal in August and public consultation that ran until October.

The ILA called it “deeply regrettable” that the European Commission chose to pursue this route rather than carrying out a risk assessment before identifying the substances as SVHCs, (a substance of very high concern).

EUROBAT’s EU Affairs Manager Michel Baumgartner said: “It didn’t come as a surprise because it’s the logical conclusion to the consultation – lead substances are repro-toxic. What we do regret is that it’s a political decision to achieve the target number of chemicals on the list before the end of 2012.“

At this stage there are no obligations for battery manufacturers using the lead substances. Baumgartner said: “It constitutes an information obligation along the supply chain and it starts with whoever makes the substance. But because there is none of the substance in the finished article, it does not pose an obligation to the battery manufacturers themselves.”

Agreeing to evaluate the risk management options before taking further action on lead is a move welcomed by the ILA and EUROBAT. It will be conducted by ECHA over the coming year. For this companies may be asked to prepare additional information to ECHA. The conclusions should be available in January 2014. By then it should be known if ECHA is proposing authorisation or any other restrictions.

Plant-based anodes for lithium batteries

Thu, 08/23/2012 - 18:02 -- Ruth Williams

Chinese companies Kuraray and Kureha are to produce lithium-ion batteries made from plant-based raw materials at a joint factory in Okayama Prefecture.

Traditionally the anode material comes from graphite but the new factory will use ‘hard carbon’ made from plant materials, including coconut shells.  The effect of using the hard carbon will have a more complex crystal structure than conventional graphite.  This will reduce deterioration occurring because of repeated charge – discharge cycles.

The factory for the joint venture will be built at Kuraray Chemical’s carbon plant and will cost US$ 38 159 000.  Output of the factory should be 1 000 tons of anode material annually.  Building work is due to commence in October with plans for the factory to be operational in Autumn 2013 with plans for expansion already being considered.

Lead-acid growth for Hitachi

Wed, 08/15/2012 - 18:02 -- Ruth Williams

Hitachi Chemical Co will increase its production capacity for industrial lead-acid batteries by next January by expanding facilities of the subsidiary company Shin-Kobe Electric Machinery Co.

Some US$12 750000 (one billion yen) will be spent on constructing a building with a new assembly line at Shin-Kobe's Nabari Works in Mie Prefecture, the main site making lead-acid batteries.  It is estimated cell production capacity is likely to increase by 50%.

The site will make back-up power source batteries, the LL-W series of which demand is growing for in offices and factories at risk of power failures.  Joining 192 LL-W batteries together can produce 40kw of electricity for around ten hours.

Shin-Kobe Co. accounts for roughly 30% of the domestic market for industrial lead-acid batteries.  The LL-W products claim a battery life of 17 years, one of the world's longest, and are a fraction of the cost of a lithium-ion counterpart. 

New battery plant in South Korea

Fri, 07/20/2012 - 18:02 -- Ruth Williams

A plant to make components for lithium-ion batteries is to be built in South Korea by Belgian company Umicore. 

The high-tech recycler and specialist materials maker will double its capacity of the product as it expands into the market.  The plant should be operational in 2014 to make parts for rechargeable batteries.

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Exide Technologies say goodbye Texas hello India

Fri, 07/20/2012 - 18:02 -- Ruth Williams

Exide Technologies' battery recycling plant in Frisco, Texas US, is to close by the end of this year after a battle by city residents over environmental issues.

The company is now being sued by two environmental groups concerned about the impact the plant has had on the health of the population. 

The groups feel regulators failed to take action on violations being committed at the plant as found on inspections.

"There are chronic contamination problems at Exide that still pose a hazard to Frisco residents and property. There's also a long history of law-breaking that the company must be held accountable for," said Colette McCadden, secretary of Frisco Unleaded.

Exide has been a target of critics in recent years because of lead emissions that exceed the US federal air-quality standard. That standard was tightened in 2008 because of mounting research into the dangers of exposure to the toxic metal at very low levels.

Exide are ceasing operation at the end of this year and the city is buying the land to re-generate.

Things are looking better for the company elsewhere however. In India Exide are planning to expand their manufacturing capacity. They will focus upon the invertor segment as opposed to automotive batteries.

Japan losing out in the supply chain game

Thu, 07/19/2012 - 18:02 -- Ruth Williams

Japan is losing out to Chinese and South Korean competitors in supplying lithium-ion battery components around the world. In the 2011 financial year Japan supplied less than half of these key parts.

Global shipments of cathode and anode materials, separators and electrolytes are estimated to have grown 11.2% to US$70.2 million last fiscal year. Japanese firms' share fell 5.7% points to 46.6%, dipping below the 50% mark for the first time since 2008.

The Japanese Yano Research Institute believes Japan’s dominance was weakened following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that halted the supply of some essential parts around the country. This, combined with the strong yen cutting into Japan’s competitiveness, meant a demand for cheaper materials grew.  Another factor is the shift in South Korean battery manufacturers to use domestically made parts over imports.

 

Lead surplus no more?

Thu, 07/19/2012 - 18:02 -- Ruth Williams

Lead supplies could fall into deficit for the first time in five years.  Recycling of car batteries has stunted demand for raw resources but, with a growing market in Asia for electric bikes, industry demand for lead is rising.  

The 2012 global lead market is set to record a surplus of 144,000 metric tons. The price has declined in recent years due to this surplus, with value falling from US$2 700/t to $1 900/t from last year.

Demand for electric bikes should reduce the surplus and push prices up, lead producers would welcome this as prices have fallen steadily since 2007 when it was valued at US$3 890/t on the London Metal Exchange.

With lead producing factories closing in China and environmental concerns hindering expansion, the demand for lead is outstripping supply. 

New York battery plans to expand

Thu, 07/19/2012 - 18:02 -- Ruth Williams

General Electric Co said it will invest $70 million in its Schenectady battery plant in New York to double production and create 100 jobs there.  This will take the plant’s workforce 450 at full capacity.
The factory manufactures GE's Durathon batteries, which are half the size of conventional lead-acid batteries but last ten times longer.

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