Lithium ion batteries: Why they explode

When we hear of a cell phone, laptop, or car battery exploding, that can rightfully be a cause for concern.

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Lithium ion batteries: Why they explode

Lithium ion batteries are all around us. In our homes, our cars, even on our person at nearly all times. And so when we hear of a cell phone, laptop, or car battery exploding, that can rightfully be a cause for concern. A lot goes into the creation of any single lithium ion cell and even a small error in that process could lead to big problems during the battery’s life cycle, explains Greg Less, who manages the U-M Energy Institute’s Battery Fabrication and Characterization User Facility at Michigan Engineering.

The facility offers a rare look the production of lithium ion cells—errors during which have proven to be a critical factor in battery explosions. The lab gives users from the university and industry access to a typical battery fabrication production line, miniaturized and separated into its component parts. Users can experiment with new materials and battery designs in a factory-quality work environment. They can build and characterize several types of batteries: Coin cells, often used as proof-of-concept; 18650 batteries, similar to the familiar “AA” cylindrical shape used for many small electrical devices; and 72×110 mm prismatic pouch cells, the type most often used as laptop batteries. Both 18650 and pouch cells are also used in electric vehicles.


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