Almost every gadget uses lithium-ion batteries, from powering laptops and tablets to tiny gadgets like cell phones, cameras and wearables. But did you know that before smartphone manufacturers can start providing the juice for bigger and more demanding applications, a thorough study about their failure needs to happen.
And that’s the time when fine folks at University College London come in. In order to present what happens to a lithium-ion battery when it overheats, they’ve used 3D-and-thermal imaging to exactly track it – from the inside and out.
All they did is they cranked the heat on a pair of the li-ion batteries to over 250 degrees Celsius which is equivalent to 482 degrees Fahrenheit, and observed on them with the mentioned techniques. And guess what… the researchers witnessed how one of the batteries blow its top. But before that happened, and during what’s known as “thermal runaway,” they observed that its core had collapsed.
What does that mean and what does the conclusion is all trying to say about Lithium-ion batteries?
Well, the sudden change in heat that leads to a weakening further change in temperature lifts up the risk for internal short circuiting and damaging any components close to it – like your SD card if there’s a slot for it, and every little electronic s that runs your smartphone.
But that only occurred in a battery having no internal support. The cell that wasn’t lacking such a feature will have a different result. After hitting about 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit) the copper internals melted, the heat reached outward and caused thermal runaway. It sounds quite a bit less violent, actually.
However this sort of testing offers helpful information regarding how the lithium-ion cells fail and will hopefully help how safety aspects are designed and considered in the future. Also, it will serve as an inspiration to invent a new high density phone battery which can stand the heat, the normal usage might bring. But while it’s still hard to think that smartphones would soon stand few days of usage without recharging it, I find USB portable chargers as pretty reliable backup power source for emergency cases.