Samsung’s massive global recall of its lithium battery has yet again focused attention on the hazards of lithium ion batteries-specifically, the health risks of lithium ion batteries exploding. Samsung first announced the recall on Sept. 2, and simply a week later it took the extraordinary step of asking customers to instantly power along the phones and exchange them for replacements. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a solid advisory asking passengers to never take advantage of the Note 7 and even stow it in checked baggage. Airlines around the world hastened to ban in-flight use and charging from the device.
Lithium rechargeable batteries are ubiquitous and, thankfully, the vast majority work just fine. They are industry’s favored source of energy for wireless applications due to their very long run times. They are utilized in everything from power tools to e-cigarettes to Apple’s new wireless earbuds. And more often than not, consumers drive them as a given. In a way, this battery is definitely the ultimate technological black box. Most are bundled into applications and they are not generally available for retail sale. Accordingly, the technology is largely away from sight and out from mind, plus it does not get the credit it deserves being an enabler in the mobile computing revolution. Indeed, the lithium rechargeable battery is as essential as the miniaturized microprocessor in this connection. It might 1 day affect the face of automobile transport being a source of energy for electric vehicles.
Therefore it is impossible to visualize modern life without lithium ion power. But society has brought a calculated risk in proliferating it. Scientists, engineers, and corporate planners long ago made a Faustian bargain with chemistry after they created this technology, whose origins date for the mid-1970s. Some variants use highly energetic but very volatile materials which require carefully engineered control systems. Generally, these systems work as intended. Sometimes, though, the lithium genie gets out of your bottle, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
This occurs more often than you might think. Considering that the late 1990s and early 2000s, we have seen a drum roll of product safety warnings and recalls of energy power battery who have burned or blown up practically every form of wireless application, including cameras, notebooks, hoverboards, vaporizers, and from now on smartphones. More ominously, lithium batteries have burned in commercial jet aircraft, a likely element in one or more major fatal crash, an incident that prompted the FAA to issue a recommendation restricting their bulk carriage on passenger flights in 2010. At the begining of 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization banned outright the shipment of lithium ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft.
So the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco is not only a story of methods Samsung botched the rollout of the latest weapon inside the smartphone wars. It’s a story concerning the nature of innovation from the postindustrial era, the one that highlights the unintended consequences in the i . t revolution and globalization over the last three decades.
Essentially, the visible difference between a handy lithium battery plus an incendiary one could be boiled to three things: how industry manufactures these devices, the way integrates them to the applications they power, and exactly how users treat their battery-containing appliances. Whenever a lithium rechargeable discharges, lithium ions layered to the negative electrode or anode (typically manufactured from graphite) lose electrons, which enter into an external circuit to complete useful work. The ions then migrate through a conductive material known as an electrolyte (usually an organic solvent) and turn into lodged in spaces in the positive electrode or cathode, a layered oxide structure.
There are a selection of lithium battery chemistries, and some are definitely more stable as opposed to others. Some, like lithium cobalt oxide, a standard formula in electronic products, are extremely flammable. When such variants do ignite, the end result is a blaze which can be difficult to extinguish due to the battery’s self-contained supply of oxidant.
To ensure such tetchy mixtures remain under control, battery manufacturing requires exacting quality control. Sony learned this lesson whenever it pioneered lithium rechargeable battery technology within the late 1980s. At first, the chemical process the organization accustomed to make your cathode material (lithium cobalt oxide) produced a very fine powder, the granules which experienced a high surface. That increased the potential risk of fire, so Sony had to invent a process to coarsen the particles.
Yet another complication is lithium ion batteries have numerous failure modes. Recharging too fast or an excessive amount of might cause lithium ions to plate out unevenly about the anode, creating growths called dendrites which could bridge the electrodes and produce a short circuit. Short circuits may also be induced by physically damaging battery power, or improperly getting rid of it, or simply just putting it in a pocket containing metal coins. Heat, whether internal or ambient, can cause the flammable electrolyte to build gases that could react uncontrollably with other battery materials. This is known as thermal runaway which is virtually impossible to avoid once initiated.
So lithium ion batteries has to be designed with numerous safety features, including current interrupters and gas vent mechanisms. The standard such feature may be the separator, a polymer membrane that prevents the electrodes from contacting the other person and developing a short circuit that will direct energy in the electrolyte. Separators also inhibit dendrites, while offering minimal potential to deal with ionic transport. In short, the separator will be the last brand of defense against thermal runaway. Some larger multicell batteries, such as the types found in electric vehicles, isolate individual cells to contain failures and use elaborate and costly cooling and thermal management systems.
Some authorities ascribe Samsung’s battery crisis to issues with separators. Samsung officials seemed to hint that this might be the situation after they indicated that a manufacturing flaw had led the negative and positive electrodes to get hold of the other. Whether or not the separator is really to blame is not really yet known.
At any rate, it is actually revealing that for Samsung, the problem is entirely battery, not the smartphone. The implication is that higher quality control will solve the trouble. Without doubt it will help. Nevertheless the manufacturing of commodity electronics is just too complex for there to become an easy solution here. There has always been an organizational, cultural, and intellectual gulf between individuals who create batteries and those that create electronics, inhibiting manufacturers from considering applications and batteries as holistic systems. This estrangement has become further accentuated with the offshoring and outsourcing of industrial research, development, and manufacturing, a results of the competitive pressures of globalization.
The effect has become a protracted consumer product safety crisis. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, notebook designers introduced faster processors that generated more heat and required more power. The most basic and cheapest means for designers of lithium cells to meet this demand ended up being to thin out separators to produce room to get more reactive material, creating thermal management problems and narrowed margins of safety.
Economic pressures further eroded these margins. In the 1990s, the rechargeable lithium battery sector became a highly competitive, low-margin industry dominated by a few firms based mainly in Japan. From around 2000, these companies started to move manufacturing to South Korea and China in operations initially plagued by extensive bugs and cell scrap rates.
All of these factors played a role inside the notebook battery fire crisis of 2006. Numerous incidents prompted the greatest recalls in electronic products history to that date, involving some 9.6 million batteries made by Sony. The organization ascribed the issue to faulty manufacturing who had contaminated cells with microscopic shards of metal. Establishing quality control will certainly be a tall order given that original equipment manufacturers disperse supply chains and outsource production.
Another issue is the fact that makers of applications like notebooks and smartphones might not exactly necessarily know how to properly integrate outsourced lithium cells into safe battery packs and applications. Sony hinted the maximum amount of in the 2006 crisis. While admitting its quality control woes, the corporation suggested that some notebook manufacturers were improperly charging its batteries, noting that battery configuration, thermal management, and charging protocols varied across the industry.
My analysis of U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls during those times (being published in Technology & Culture in January 2017) demonstrates that there might have been some truth to this. Nearly 50 % of the recalled batteries (4.2 million) in 2006 were for notebooks produced by Dell, a business whose enterprise model was according to integrating cheap outsourced parts and minimizing in-house R&D costs. In August 2006, the newest York Times cited a former Dell employee who claimed the 02dexspky had suppressed a huge selection of incidents of catastrophic battery failures dating to 2002. In contrast, relatively few reported incidents at that time involved Sony batteries in Sony computers.
In a way, then, the lithium ion battery fires are largely a consequence of the way we have structured our society. We still don’t have uniform safety protocols for numerous problems associated with 3.7v lithium ion battery, including transporting and getting rid of them and safely rescuing passengers from accidents involving electric cars powered by them. Such measures badly trail the drive to find greater convenience, and profit, in electronics and electric automobiles. The hunt for more power and better voltage is straining the physical limits of lithium ion batteries, there are few technologies less forgiving of your chaotically single-minded manner in which humans are increasingly making their way worldwide. Scientists work on safer alternatives, but we need to expect many more unpleasant surprises from your existing technology within the interim.