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What's Wrong With Lithium Ion Batteries?

samzenpus posted about 7 years ago | from the too-hot-to-handle dept.

Power 289

An anonymous Coward writes "Lithium ion batteries short-circuit. They overheat. They burst into flames. The reasons behind the recent spate of problems with a technology invented by Sony more than a decade ago are complex and varied, making for one big engineering headache."

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Lithium Ions (5, Funny)

arth1 (260657) | about 7 years ago | (#20491617)

Yeah, but they're great for bipolar disorders.
And isn't that what a battery per definition has?

Re:Lithium Ions (5, Funny)

fyngyrz (762201) | about 7 years ago | (#20491937)

Well, many designs feature a salt and battery; personally, though, I always thought that just because you have bipolar to point at doesn't mean you get off without a charge. From where I sit, the whole bunch of them belong in cells.

Re:Lithium Ions (5, Informative)

2.7182 (819680) | about 7 years ago | (#20492267)

The joke - Lithium has been a standard treatment for bipolar disorders since the late 50's. It can work remarkably well. Funny thing is that it was discovered by giving it to rats. The rats calmed down though because it made them sick, and this was misinterpreted. But it works well in humans by coincidence.

What a moronic post (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20491619)

Engineers face difficult challenges all the time. Everything is a tradeoff of sorts. Safety is routinely traded against cost and size. LiIon and LiPoly both have energy densities considerably higher than the next readily available technology (NiMH), thus the reason to drive towards the technology.

Re:What a moronic post (2, Insightful)

Daffy Duck (17350) | about 7 years ago | (#20491661)

Moronic? Boy, you're a tough customer.

It was a somewhat interesting article that I wouldn't have seen if it hadn't been posted here. If you didn't find it interesting, does that make the author or submitter a moron? Who raised you?

Re:What a moronic post (-1, Troll)

timmarhy (659436) | about 7 years ago | (#20491741)

Never engineered a single thing in your life have you boy. safety is never dropped to cut costs or size. a single lawsuit showing otherwise and the company is ruined.

Re:What a moronic post (4, Insightful)

Bastard of Subhumani (827601) | about 7 years ago | (#20491797)

safety is never dropped to cut costs or size. a single lawsuit showing otherwise and the company is ruined.
Here on planet Earth, Ford are still [wikipedia.org] in business. [autoblog.com]

Re:What a moronic post (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20491829)

Never engineered a single thing in your life have you boy. safety is never dropped to cut costs or size. a single lawsuit showing otherwise and the company is ruined.
Are you kidding me? Safety is analyzed in a cost-benefit analysis just like everything else. The greater the potential risk and potential liabilities, the greater importance safety will take. This is why nuclear engineers spend a lot more time engineering safety systems on nuclear reactors than a hardware engineer worries about the safety of a PS3 that could catch fire. To a hardware engineer a QA failure means that a lot of people complain about their iPhones that won't work. To an aeronautical engineer it means that a 747 just exploded over the Atlantic Ocean. You don't honestly think that the investment in safety is the same in each of these cases do you?

Re:What a moronic post (3, Insightful)

clickclickdrone (964164) | about 7 years ago | (#20491957)

Indeed. The car industry for one has a calculation on fixing faults to the effect that if the lawsuit is cheaper than the fix, they leave it. Basically, there is a dollar value applied to a human life and any fault is analysed and a possible headcount caused by the fault calculated. If the repair is less than that total, the do it.

Re:What a moronic post (5, Funny)

ImTheDarkcyde (759406) | about 7 years ago | (#20492507)

I saw Fight Club too

Re:What a moronic post (2, Funny)

Broken scope (973885) | about 7 years ago | (#20492705)

Oh yeah.... well I read the book!

Re:What a moronic post (-1, Offtopic)

clickclickdrone (964164) | about 7 years ago | (#20492717)

Not actually seen the film actually, it was on a BBC documentry from memory.

Re:What a moronic post (4, Insightful)

bentcd (690786) | about 7 years ago | (#20491895)

safety is never dropped to cut costs or size. a single lawsuit showing otherwise and the company is ruined.
On the contrary, safety is routinely dropped to cut costs and size. If we didn't do this, then everything would be infinitely expensive and we wouldn't ever have gotten as far as to stone tools.

Stone tools? (4, Funny)

burnttoy (754394) | about 7 years ago | (#20492727)

You could have someones eye out with one of those... here, try this handful of wet mud instead...

Re:What a moronic post (4, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about 7 years ago | (#20492071)

Depends entirely on the profit. If you're able to sell enough units because you're cheaper or more "advanced" than the competition, the few lawsuits you might face are already covered. And if you're a large enough company, don't worry, no country would allow to sue you into bankrupcy, after all, you're holding the jobs in said country hostage. Without you, a few thousand people more are unemployed.

Needn't be bankrupcy, btw. Waving the "if we gotta pay, we gotta cut costs and that means we gotta lay off" flag is often enough of a warning to get you off the hook cheaply.

Re:What a moronic post (-1, Flamebait)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 7 years ago | (#20492169)

Posting from your padded cell are you?
 

Really? (0, Offtopic)

JSchoeck (969798) | about 7 years ago | (#20492207)

Martel had to recall children's toys twice in two weeks for it contained lead in its paint.

So making sure that no heavy-metalls are in your product, which costs money of course, wasn't left out here?

Re:Really? (0, Offtopic)

Televiper2000 (1145415) | about 7 years ago | (#20492473)

The lead in the Mattel toys is a result of nefarious manufacturing practices.

Actually, if you RTFA, it's not moronic (5, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | about 7 years ago | (#20492061)

Acually, if you actually RTFA, it raises exactly the same problems you write about, so I'm curious how you could call it moronic without, you know, calling yourself a moron ;)

That said, I still have to wonder about some tradeoffs. Essentially, the way I read the article:

1. A lot (if not most) of the increasing risk was in the name of cutting costs as such, or cost per capacity. E.g., the original Cobalt, which was expensive but apparently safe, got then replaced with Nickel, then with even cheaper Nickel-Manganese alloy. I'm not sure how that can be a problem, but _something_ (this or something else) along the way apparently turned a safe battery design into a potential time bomb.

2. (Or maybe 1a.) They seem to be blaming the factory in China where everyone outsourced the actual manufacturing to. Again in the name of cutting costs. Maybe it's just blame-shifting and finger pointing, but it raises a valid theoretical concern. It's not easy to know, once a battery is assembled and sealed, what really is inside. If, theoretically, they shafted you for an extra buck, how would you know? You can put all sorts of checks in place in your own factory, but once you've outsourced it, it's out of your control.

It even gives you an example of what can go wrong in that scenario. If the separating membrane doesn't soften and collapse at a given temperature, the battery essentially just lost the designed protection against catching fire. What if someone replaces that foil with something cheaper, but which doesn't work that way?

3. (Or maybe 1b.) Apparently at least one batch is suspected to have been manufactured with counterfeit materials. I have to wonder if this wasn't just because they were cheaper. I.e., cost cutting again.

4. Not cost cutting, but competitive advantage again, apparently some laptop manufacturers recharge their batteries more "aggressively" (read: exceed the rated recharge current) so they can get a minor competitive edge there. It apparently (according to TFA) causes the battery to vibrate, and might cause particles to impale the membrane and shortcircuit the battery.

So while I'm not against capitalism or anything, it makes me, you know, wonder. Maybe the drive to cut costs can be taken to dangerous extremes? Just a thought.

Yes, it should fix itself, companies would in an ideal world avoid loss of reputation due to faulty products, etc. But sometimes it's too late. E.g., it's already suspected that a plane crash was due to a laptop igniting in the hold. E.g, an even worse case was when in 1937 a pharma company offered a liquid antibiotic where the actual antibiotic wasn't solluble in water, but someone found out it was solluble in diethylene glycol [fda.gov] , a deadly poison. It was what prompted the FDA to mandate extensive testing for medicine. (And speaking of diethylene glycol, it seems to keep reappearing recently in Chinese-manufactured toothpaste. No doubt because it's cheaper than something less toxic.) Etc.

Do I have a solution? Nope. It makes me wonder, though.

Re:Actually, if you RTFA, it's not moronic (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20492155)

The article was good, the way the poster framed it wasn't.

Re:Actually, if you RTFA, it's not moronic (1)

Znork (31774) | about 7 years ago | (#20492281)

"So while I'm not against capitalism or anything, it makes me, you know, wonder. Maybe the drive to cut costs can be taken to dangerous extremes? Just a thought."

"Do I have a solution?"

Actually, there's a very simple capitalistic free market solution to the very problem LiIon batteries pose.

Legislate that LiIon batteries must use standardized battery format and be consumer changeable.

Instead of the current product tying market you'd get one where consumers themselves could chose wether to use exploding batteries with a lifespan of 18-36 months, or less powerful battery types (well, less powerful until the LiIon loses its max charge after a few months anyway).

Heck, you could even legislate a label with 'may explode if looked at wrong'.

I'd betcha the Li-Ions would be used in exactly the places where they need to be used, for the long road trips, or the vacations in the woods (and be stored in the freezer in the time between where they break by 2% instead of 40% per year).

The rest of the time, I'd bet most people would go for the non-exploding batteries that still carry charge enough to survive between docking stations.

Re:Actually, if you RTFA, it's not moronic (3, Insightful)

ThosLives (686517) | about 7 years ago | (#20492375)

Legislate that LiIon batteries must use standardized battery format and be consumer changeable.

So basically, you're advocating the "one size fits none" approach to batteries?

While I understand the idea here - the ubiquity of things like AA, AAA, C, D, etc. batteries is testament to that - legislating a technical configuration in my mind is always a bad thing. Legislation should just say "this is what the [product] must do," not "This is what the product should be." Otherwise you get strange issues like when hybrid cars came out, because the EPA regulations mandated that if the city fuel economy was indeed actually higher than the highway, you could only write the highway for both (that law has now been modified, but at some notable cost to society).

I would rather allow OEMs to be able to package cells in whatever form factor and styling they wish for custom devices like laptops - the visual appearance alone between laptops from different manufacturers should be a good indication of why a mandated standard battery pack would not be good - it would actually prevent innovation if the battery pack became a limiting design factor. The simplest example: you can't have a dimension smaller than the smallest dimension of the mandated battery packs.

Re:Actually, if you RTFA, it's not moronic (1)

Znork (31774) | about 7 years ago | (#20492511)

"the ubiquity of things like AA, AAA, C, D, etc."

Not to mention the button formats, small enough to fit the smallest iPod or keyring appliance.

'Legislation should just say "this is what the [product] must do,"'

And that would be "allow the consumer to change it for other interchangeable formats".

"it would actually prevent innovation if the battery pack became a limiting design factor."

There's nothing preventing a battery pack composed of individual smaller batteries, combining to almost any shape you want. As long as you could change the individual cells that'd be fine.

Shape isn't really a problem as standard battery shapes already are vastly varied, and could easily be extended with several more formats (actually allowing varying shapes is part of what causes the explosion problem; random design choices affect the technical issues and you get a constant input of untested designs into the market). And I mean, _really_. Designing around the battery sizes we have isnt really that hard, nor is it a particularly new problem. If the designer isnt competent enough to do that, fire him. (Or set him on fire with his product).

So when the producers come with that excuse I'd suggest it has more to do with their desire for high profit margins on battery replacements. Cheap razors, expensive blades, as it were.

Re:Actually, if you RTFA, it's not moronic (2, Informative)

1u3hr (530656) | about 7 years ago | (#20492623)

There's nothing preventing a battery pack composed of individual smaller batteries, combining to almost any shape you want. As long as you could change the individual cells that'd be fine.

That's the situation now actually. There are shops here (in Hong Kong) that will sell you a third-party laptop battery; or they'll crack open your old one and rebuild it with standard LiOn cells. Similar ro laser toner refillers. Don't they have this elsewhere? Perhaps liability concerns prevent it in the US.

Re:Actually, if you RTFA, it's not moronic (1)

ThosLives (686517) | about 7 years ago | (#20492685)

There's nothing preventing a battery pack composed of individual smaller batteries,

That's a reasonable initial assumption, but given what I know about batteries this isn't always feasible. One of the main issues with "modern" rechargeable batteries is that they require some fairly substantial integration effort - it's not like the current button cells or even "standard" sizes where you can just stack cells together; I'm pretty sure there has to be more integration effort than that. My evidence is the current state of the batteries: the suspicions are that the integration of the components in current Li-based batteries is the problem.

In order to come up with a "standard" cell which can be swapped out inside some custom casing is actually quite inefficient: you add extra packaging to each cell as well as in the casing to put them together, and you have to have additional checks to make sure if you combine cells of brand X and Y together they don't interact poorly (current alkaline batteries are bad enough if you mix and match!).

I still don't think that battery manufacturers are milking things as much as people thing - I think the problem is that the people who abuse their batteries and have to replace them frequently are the vocal folks, so that's all you hear. I have never known anyone personally that has had to replace a battery on any mobile device within two years, and I have never personally known anyone to have to replace a laptop battery. That said, the sample that is "people I know" are generally conscious of good technical practices.

That said, if technical development gets us less expensive, longer-lasting, more fool-resistant batteries that's great. As it is, I'm satisfied with the current state of technology for my needs, and I think that if we just educated people on technology we'd be better off in the long run. (That's a different discussion entirely - we're growing an entire generation of people that "just expect things to work" without knowing how to make them work. That's more scary to me than all the off-shoring, terrorism, natural disasters/climate issues, and whatever else is actually in the mainstream media.)

Re:Actually, if you RTFA, it's not moronic (4, Insightful)

Detritus (11846) | about 7 years ago | (#20492777)

Bad idea. Battery chemistry and construction are rapidly evolving. From what I've read on the design of devices that use Lithium batteries, the power subsystem (charger, power supply, battery) must be designed as a matched system. The limited margin for error makes old-style design techniques unsafe. These are not generic batteries, which can be substituted without much thought. The charging circuits, safety circuits, and power supply must be designed to match the characteristics of a specific battery. The safety and performance of the power subsystem are only guaranteed when you use the proper battery.

Re:Actually, if you RTFA, it's not moronic (1)

1u3hr (530656) | about 7 years ago | (#20492581)

It's not easy to know, once a battery is assembled and sealed, what really is inside. If, theoretically, they shafted you for an extra buck, how would you know? You can put all sorts of checks in place in your own factory, but once you've outsourced it, it's out of your control.

When you contract manufacture, you normally have your own, or an independent, quality control. Especially in China; I've been involved with this. As for "how would you know?", you'd check a random sample. Test and then cut them open and be sure what they're made of.

Re:What a moronic post (2, Informative)

dgun (1056422) | about 7 years ago | (#20492337)

Engineers face difficult challenges all the time....

Safety is routinely traded against cost and size.



And if safety, cost, and size were not "specified", batteries would be huge, cost $25,000 a piece, and would explode when dropped.

Re:What a moronic post (1)

residents_parking (1026556) | about 7 years ago | (#20492783)

That's a slur against engineers, AC. Do you really mean those entitled to use the letters PE, CEng, or equivalent?

Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (5, Interesting)

Groo Wanderer (180806) | about 7 years ago | (#20491627)

http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=14417 [theinquirer.net]

I wrote that before batteries going boom was the latest fashion trend. The problem is simple, you have a lot of energy in a small area and people crying out for higher densities. If _ANYTHING_ goes wrong, you have a high likelihood for a lot of energy released in a short amount of time.

Couple this with reactive/flamable substance that make up batteries, and you have a lightshow. There is no magic to it all, simple physics. Lots of energy released around reactive things, you need both for a modern battery.

Some designs minimize the risk, none remove it. As always, nothing new under the sun.

                -Charlie

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (1)

arivanov (12034) | about 7 years ago | (#20491677)

simple physics. And chemistry your honour, and chemistry.

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (2, Interesting)

KiloByte (825081) | about 7 years ago | (#20491707)

Except, chemistry is nothing but a certain application of physics (-> full quote [whoop.as] ).

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (1)

arivanov (12034) | about 7 years ago | (#20492129)

Except, Physics is nothing but a certain application of Mathematics

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (1)

MrHanky (141717) | about 7 years ago | (#20492245)

And mathematics is various ludicrously complex and circumlocutory ways of stating that 1 equals 1. Which is why I always end an argument where I find my opponent to be right with saying "I told you so".

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (3, Insightful)

Goaway (82658) | about 7 years ago | (#20492283)

Wrong. You cannot derive physical laws from mathematical theorems. You can, however, derive chemical laws from physical laws (although it may be extremely hard to do in practice).

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20492493)

You cannot derive physical laws from mathematical theorems


This is a fairly recent (i.e. C19) viewpoint, reflecting changing understanding of what mathematics is. Neoplatonists such as Galileo and Kepler, and synthetic geometers adopting the classical style, would have been happy to tell you that mathematics is a perfect way of describing nature.

Then the axiomatisers, perhaps heralded by Leibniz (whose more philosophical discussions on notation etc were of less immediate influence than his calculus, even though one begat the other), decided that mathematics was nothing more than a set of rules for symbol manipulation. Hence, for example, the arguments over Euclid's parallel postulate being initially connected with the question of whether geometry is "true" in the sense that it represents physical space.

In essence, you are vacuously correct, because today, mathematics without choosing some axiom system cannot do anything - it is merely an acceptance of "logic" without any definitions or rules to work from. But if we choose our axiom system to incorporate sufficient fundamental laws of physics, then physics becomes a branch of mathematics; just as if we choose our axiom system to be Euclid's definitions and postulates, Euclidean geometry becomes a branch of mathematics.

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (1)

Tim99 (984437) | about 7 years ago | (#20492535)

Wrong. You cannot derive physical laws from mathematical theorems. You can, however, derive chemical laws from physical laws (although it may be extremely hard to do in practice).
And an awful lot of physics was worked out from chemistry. And most of the new stuff in biology is chemistry. If you can touch it, it is chemistry - if you drop it, it is physics...

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (1)

Ash Vince (602485) | about 7 years ago | (#20492793)

And an awful lot of physics was worked out from chemistry. And most of the new stuff in biology is chemistry. If you can touch it, it is chemistry - if you drop it, it is physics...
Actually it's the other way round, Chemistry and Biology are just Physics in disguise.

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20492753)

And you're nothing but an arrogant polack cunt.

Uhuh, it'll apply to any technology (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 7 years ago | (#20491727)

It doesn't matter whether it's a battery, a fuel cell or whatever, you'll have a shit load of energy in a small volume.

Re:Uhuh, it'll apply to any technology (1)

cnettel (836611) | about 7 years ago | (#20492069)

We still have more in sugar. Despite this, sugar is relatively safe at most temperatures. Sugar in a water solution even more so, while still reasonably potent. The uncatalyzed chain reaction (a.k.a. fire) is simply not favorable in anything close to normal conditions there. The story is a bit less simple for LiI batteries. (Now, a water solution wouldn't be ideal due to the risk of explosion through boiling, but that's another matter. It's still a rather simple fact that the energy densities involved aren't that great. Human beings don't self-ignite with a frequency comparable to Li-Ion batteries, although both are marginal phenomenas.)

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (5, Informative)

sslo (1143755) | about 7 years ago | (#20491891)

"Couple this with reactive/flamable substance that make up batteries, and you have a lightshow. ... Some designs minimize the risk, none remove it."

This is (lately) misinformation. It's basically true of any conventional LiIon battery type. But unlike the LiIon chemistry in common use today in laptop batteries, the newer lithium phosphate (LiFePO4) LiIon chemistry is inherently non-flammable and non-explosive. It's also considerably less energy dense than standard LiIon chemistries and more expensive to manufacture, thus big business' near-total lack of interest in rushing to develop it for consumer devices over the past several years. But it is now used in a few high current drain applications where conventional LiIon would be a poor choice, e.g. in some DeWalt power tools. When the cost comes down enough, you'll see lots more of these batteries, notably in electric vehicles, where they effectively eliminate laptop-type LiIon's barely-restrained violent urge to turn vehicles into smoldering heaps of rubble.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_iron_phosphat e_battery/ [wikipedia.org]

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 7 years ago | (#20492497)

RTFA. It actually goes on to say precisely what you just said. I expect you'll get modded insightful anyway though.

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (2, Informative)

sslo (1143755) | about 7 years ago | (#20492673)

The Wikipedia lithium phosphate battery link with better formatting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium_iron_phosphat e_battery/ [wikipedia.org] The Energy Blog is a source of some good up to date information about automotive power developments using safer lithium phosphate LiFePO4 batteries: The Energy Blog, at http://thefraserdomain.typepad.com/energy/batterie s/ [typepad.com] It talks about the upcoming GM Volt car, airship batteries, A123 Systems batteries (used for several years now in power tools) moving into automotive use, Altair NanoSafe batteries being used in electric pickup trucks, Mitsubishi's investment in a LiFePO4 battery manufacturing plant expected to produce vehicle batteries in 2008, and Nissan and NEC combining to invest in a safe automotive lithium ion battery manufacturing plant with products expected in 2009. In response to the many sweepingly inaccurate comments above about high energy density batteries being inherently unsafe, energy density alone does not make a chemical battery spectacularly dangerous. The LiFePO4 batteries appear to be roughly as safe as alkaline or NiMH cells (which have a broadly similar energy density per volume, but aren't as energy dense by weight). Lithium primary (disposable) 3.0v cells are not nearly as safe as alkaline and NiMH, despite being approximately as energy dense. When made with good quality control, they're reasonably OK to use in devices that use only one lithium cell. Even then, when poorly manufactured, they can overheat and burn or explode. They are not really reasonably safe to use in devices that use two or more cells in series. LiIon batteries of the conventional kind are also notably more unsafe when two or more such cells are used in series.

Re:Some stuf I wrote on this a while ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20492747)

And when placed in a Datsun 1200, along with a pair of 8" forklift motors and a 600,000watt motor controller, it turns nto the worlds fastest electric door slammer called the White Zombie. :D

http://www.plasmaboyracing.com/reviews.php [plasmaboyracing.com]
11.466 in the quarter mile!

Article text (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20491631)

What's Wrong With Lithium-Ion Batteries?

The announcement [nokia.com] last month that 46 million Nokia-branded lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries made by Matsushita Battery Industrial could potentially short circuit and overheat was just the latest in a spate of product advisories and recalls of the technology over the past two years.

But it's not as if Li-ion batteries [wikipedia.org] are at the early point in their life cycle when you would expect these sorts of problems to crop up. Sony invented the technology back in 1990. So why is it failing now?

The theories behind the technology's recent spotty performance are complex and varied, which makes fixing the problem a perplexing engineering challenge.

A Constantly Evolving Technology

"You can't really say that for the first ten years the battery makers got it right and now they're screwing it up," says Jim Miller, Manager of Argonne National Lab's Electrochemical Technology Program [anl.gov] . Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, his group's research is directed at developing new materials for Li-ion batteries [anl.gov] and addressing some of the major issues in scaling up the technology.

Miller points out that Li-ion battery technology is not just a single design or composition, but rather it's an entire family of chemistries that is constantly evolving. "When Sony invented it in 1990, it was lithium cobalt oxide. But cobalt is expensive and so engineers started replacing it with nickel, which costs less. And then as time went on engineers found that they could substitute cheaper nickel manganese alloys for the nickel."

Cost reduction isn't the only driving force behind the evolutionary march of Li-ion batteries. The desire to extend battery life, achieve higher energy densities and faster charging times, and improve reliability has led to a constant tinkering of the technology. Energy densities are double what they were five years ago, for example, and new surface coatings are being applied to make the batteries more stable and reduce their reactivity rates.

Ever-Increasing Demands, More Trade-offs

The trade-offs inherent in these often mutually exclusive goals make for a diabolical design challenge: You can make a Li-ion battery that has high performance, for example, but the trade-off is a shorter life. And as every design engineer knows, making the right trade-offs and getting everything right takes time, experience, and a bit of finesse.

"A problem doesn't necessarily pop up during the first generation of cells," says Miller. "Things may look fine in the lab and then when you go to production you find that the technology behaves in a slightly different way, which means things can and do go wrong."

Something certainly went wrong at Sony last year, resulting in the recall of millions of its Li-ion laptop batteries. As for what exactly led to the short-circuiting problem that posed a risk of fire and in one case caused a Dell notebook to burst into flames, Sony Spokesperson Rick Clancy says that there were different conclusions at different levels.

"When you produce lithium ion batteries, the objective is to either have zero metal contaminants or at least as few of them as possible and surround them by a protective shell or layer so that they cannot penetrate the separator," explains Clancy. The separator in a Li-ion battery keeps the anodes and cathodes from touching each other and causing a short circuit.

Clancy says that Sony engineers discovered that there was a greater frequency of these metal particles escaping from one part of the cell and entering the other part. They've addressed the issue at a product level by designing in a stronger lining, he notes.

But there were other findings at a systems level, specifically relating to variances in configurations and specifications for battery packs from the PC makers, says Clancy. "They are doing the most they can to optimize their products and make them as competitive as possible, which is putting more demands on the power supply as it relates to the battery."

He adds that some manufacturers' charging systems are more aggressive than others, which could have had the effect of either vibrating or shaking the batteries more aggressively, a phenomenon that may have played a role in the short circuiting problem. He says engineering teams from Sony and the PC manufacturers are working closely together to better understand and more effectively manage these systems issues.

A representative of Matsushita Battery Industrial (MBI) [panasonic.co.jp] , the company that manufactured the 46 million Li-ion batteries named in the recent Nokia product advisory told Electronics Weekly in a phone interview that the company is still investigating the cause of 100 incidences of batteries overheating.

But he too pointed to the ever-increasing demands on Li-ion batteries. "Generally speaking the batteries are getting smaller and smaller, and at the same time they are being required to deliver more power and capacity. The engineering challenge for us is to maintain the same degree of reliability throughout," he says.

Although he ruled out any possibility of process-related problems, the manufacturing landscape has widened since the Japanese developed the technology in the 1990s.

The cells for the batteries implicated in the Nokia advisory, for example, were manufactured by MBI in Japan and shipped to a factory in China where they were assembled into battery packs.

The batteries involved in the Sony recall carried labels marked "Made in Japan," "Made in China," or "Battery Cell Made in Japan Assembled in China." Sony produces Li-ion cells in plants in Japan and China, assembles some battery packs at a Sony plant in China, and in some cases sells Li-ion cells to third party makers of battery packs. Sony says that off-shoring was not a factor in last year's recall.

But Don Sadoway [mit.edu] , a professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT who is an expert in advanced battery technologies, worries about off-shoring of a chemistry he asserts "needs to be treated with respect."

"I have 100% confidence in the Japanese battery manufacturers," he says. "And my guess is that they never had the problems they're seeing now when the same batteries were manufactured from start to finish in Japan."

He notes that one of the challenges with Li-ion batteries in particular is that it is very difficult to verify that the manufacturing and assembly is being performed according to specifications. That's because once it's assembled into a battery pack, the device cannot be inspected from the outside nor can it be easily tested.

Sadoway points to the separator material between the electrodes as an example. Acting like a kind of fuse, it is designed to soften and collapse at a specific temperature, causing the battery to essentially go into an open circuit condition and die.

In fact, he wonders why that didn't happen in the case of the Dell laptop that burst into flames last year.

"You could think you are specifying a porous polypropylene material for the separator, but once the thing is packaged up you would have no way of knowing what you actually got. Even under the best of circumstances, you can get screwed by your own job shop. What if the workers took a short cut and substituted the original material with cardboard?"

In at least one case, it's suspected that battery manufacturers were supplied with counterfeit raw materials.

Argonne's Miller agrees that is very difficult and expensive to test and verify Li-ion batteries, adding to the cost that manufacturers presumably hoped to reduce by off-shoring assembly in the first place. But he says that quality assurance can be engineered into the battery design, and that he believes suppliers of cell phones and laptops are tightening up the process. "They are getting more precise in the materials they are using and in their cell designs," he says.

Still, Sadowy believes that much more rigorous oversight and stringent quality assurance is required, especially as Li-ion batteries scale up. The technology is expected to hit the road in the next few years in electric vehicles under development such as the GM Volt [gm-volt.com] .

"If your MP3 player fries, it's not a big deal, you don't get to listen to your favourite tunes," says Sadoway. "I have real worries when we try to build a large format Li-ion battery with 100X the capacity and put it out there on the highway."

Everyone is trying to kill us... (0, Flamebait)

arorra500 (1057344) | about 7 years ago | (#20491653)

We have lead in children's toys, combustible batteries, slime in the Ice machine, one can only wonder what will they think of next?

Re:Everyone is trying to kill us... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20491819)

Well, 2 out of the three listed are made in China, so really, it's the Chinese trying to kill us ;o)

Twas ever thus (2, Funny)

Silver Sloth (770927) | about 7 years ago | (#20491825)

As the (very) old song goes

It's illegal, it's immoral, or it makes you fat

We kill ourselves? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20492033)

To do this, we could vote W. in for a 2'nd term. Oh yeah. That IS the problem. Well, here is hoping that voters will be brighter next time.

Re:Everyone is trying to kill us... (1)

JordanL (886154) | about 7 years ago | (#20492043)

what will they think of next?
A sticky candy snack made of fruit product. We'll call it fruit by the foot. :)

Re:Everyone is trying to kill us... (1)

iminplaya (723125) | about 7 years ago | (#20492545)

Microwave popcorn [grist.org] ?

Stop focusing on the bad (2, Funny)

n3tcat (664243) | about 7 years ago | (#20491663)

and look at what's right. First thing that comes to mind, no other abbreviation sounds as cool as Li-on.

Rawr.

What's wrong? They store to much energy! (3, Informative)

joto (134244) | about 7 years ago | (#20491685)

Anything that contains lots of energy in a small and compact volume, is dangerous. Explosives, and modern batteries, are really not that different. Both contain a huge amount of energy, in a comparatively small area. As battery technology improves, batteries will become even more dangerous.

With old heavy duty, or alkaline batteries, the worst that could happen was usually a leak. While annoying, it usually didn't pose any dangers. Modern batteries catch fire and explode. Eventually, we'll probably have a nuclear powerplant inside our mp3-players, at which time, they will hopefully include some additional safeguards, such as a fuse. But all modern batteries (lithium, lithium-ion, lithium-polymer) will explode or catch fire, if there's a serious enough malfunction.

Re:What's wrong? They store to much energy! (2, Insightful)

mwvdlee (775178) | about 7 years ago | (#20491769)

I don't really see how storing energy in a high density is inheritantly dangerous. It all depends on how you store it and then there isn't really any practical limit. Any battery will explode if a serious enough malfunction occurs, the question is what you consider "serious".

Re:What's wrong? They store to much energy! (0, Flamebait)

joto (134244) | about 7 years ago | (#20492211)

Any battery will explode if a serious enough malfunction occurs, the question is what you consider "serious".

Batteries are typically used in portable devices. Thus they can never be 100% protected from damage. It would be pretty bad if the batteries in you ipod in your pocket decided to explode because of the impact you got in a car crash. Sure, car crashes are bad for you, but explosions even worse, at least when they're next to your skin.

I therefore suggest the following two tests for battery safety (for now):

  1. Severely damage the casing (such as by driving a nail through it, or subjecting it to an anvil and a sledgehammer for a few hundred blows). If it catches fire, explodes, or leaks significantly dangerous substances to hospitalize you if exposed, it's dangerous
  2. Hold the battery in an open flame for at least 10 minutes. If it explodes, it's dangerous.

That's what I mean by saying energy density is dangerous. Modern batteries contain so much energy that it's very hard to imagine something that wouldn't fail these two tests. And even if you protect them by a very solid shell, you're still going to get worst case once in a while. I'm not saying that we should go back to using alkalines only, but people should be aware of the dangers. Batteries are not toys anymore.

Gads, how did you get modded up (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20492159)

Gasoline stores FAR much more energy. Hell, liquid H2 carries FAR FAR more energy than does any of our batteries. So what? The problem is not too much energy, but need to re-engineer how things are handled. The simply fact is, that we WANT to store all of our energy in as small a container as possible. Why? Because it make transportation cheaper. In fact, if we could put all our energy instide of a AAA, then it would make for a great bomb, as well as cheap to make it safe.

Re:What's wrong? They store to much energy! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20492275)

NNUTS.

Back when alkalines were hot news, a 9V Dur* I was carrying in my pants suddenly became hot. As I was worried it would catch fire or even explode, I stopped the bus to throw it out.

(API)

Re:What's wrong? They store to much energy! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20492613)

Anything that contains lots of energy in a small and compact volume, is dangerous.

Maybe I'm being pedantic, but E=mc^2 anybody?

They only started doing this recently (1, Interesting)

DragonTHC (208439) | about 7 years ago | (#20491691)

I think some shitty Fab is to blame for these batteries popping.

3 years ago, you rarely heard of batteries popping.

lest we forget the markets flooded with cheap aftermarket chargers?

Re:They only started doing this recently (5, Interesting)

Hal_Porter (817932) | about 7 years ago | (#20491747)

I found an interesting article that supports that theory -

http://www.electronicsweekly.com/blogs/engineering -design-problems/2007/09/whats-wrong-with-lithiumi on-ba-1.html [electronicsweekly.com]

But Don Sadoway, a professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT who is an expert in advanced battery technologies, worries about off-shoring of a chemistry he asserts "needs to be treated with respect."

"I have 100% confidence in the Japanese battery manufacturers," he says. "And my guess is that they never had the problems theyre seeing now when the same batteries were manufactured from start to finish in Japan."

He notes that one of the challenges with Li-ion batteries in particular is that it is very difficult to verify that the manufacturing and assembly is being performed according to specifications. Thats because once its assembled into a battery pack, the device cannot be inspected from the outside nor can it be easily tested.

Sadoway points to the separator material between the electrodes as an example. Acting like a kind of fuse, it is designed to soften and collapse at a specific temperature, causing the battery to essentially go into an open circuit condition and die.

In fact, he wonders why that didnt happen in the case of the Dell laptop that burst into flames last year.

"You could think you are specifying a porous polypropylene material for the separator, but once the thing is packaged up you would have no way of knowing what you actually got. Even under the best of circumstances, you can get screwed by your own job shop. What if the workers took a short cut and substituted the original material with cardboard?"

Even better there's a link to that article in the writeup! Pretty handy.

Re:They only started doing this recently (1)

bentcd (690786) | about 7 years ago | (#20491915)

"You could think you are specifying a porous polypropylene material for the separator, but once the thing is packaged up you would have no way of knowing what you actually got. Even under the best of circumstances, you can get screwed by your own job shop. What if the workers took a short cut and substituted the original material with cardboard?"

Even better there's a link to that article in the writeup! Pretty handy.
One would think it's really easy to figure out what you got: you sample one battery out of every thousand (or whatever), open it up and do a thorough inspection of its contents. If it's not up to snuff, you scrap the entire shipment and a factory owner in China commits suicide.

Re:They only started doing this recently (1)

jamesh (87723) | about 7 years ago | (#20492235)

If it's not up to snuff, you scrap the entire shipment

This is roughly the way that they already operate in China, except that if it's not up to snuff, they flog it off to Sony at a discount.

(kidding, of course)

Re:They only started doing this recently (1)

yada21 (1042762) | about 7 years ago | (#20492797)

if it's not up to snuff, they flog it off to Sony at a discount. (kidding, of course)
We knew you were joking. I mean, Chinese giving discount's, LOL!

Re:They only started doing this recently (3, Interesting)

rsmith-mac (639075) | about 7 years ago | (#20492153)

No, this isn't recent, it's only more sensationalized and is affecting more people overall because of the increased deployment of devices using the technology. Heck, the PowerBook 5300 [wikipedia.org] when first released in the early-to-mid 90's was blowing up due to its LiIon battery - somewhat amusingly that was Sony made too.

Batteries will continue to periodically blow up as long as we use them, it's the inherent result of creating devices with so much energy density.

Fortunately (5, Interesting)

evanbd (210358) | about 7 years ago | (#20491723)

Fortunately, we have supercapacitors. While they're not there yet for energy density (still about 10x too little) they're rapidly improving. 10x isn't much at the rate these things have been improving, and there are plenty of labs with pieces that are much better than currently available commercial offerings, but that still need development work. If I had to guess, I'd say it's 5 years until the first supercaps appear in serious commercial use, and less than 10 until LiIon has gone the way of NiMH.

Of course, if you believe the rumors [arstechnica.com] then it might be even faster than that -- we might be seeing serious applications in a year or so.

I, for one, will be glad to give LiIon a proper burial. But until then, we work with what's available.

Re:Fortunately (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 7 years ago | (#20491809)

The next generation of batteries will probably be Lithium Sulphur technology. Ultracapacitors are really solving a different problem.
 

Re:Fortunately (1)

evanbd (210358) | about 7 years ago | (#20491879)

How are they solving a different problem? Obviously right now they're not suited to replace LiIon batteries, and they're getting used to solve other problems, but if the energy density catches up to LiIons, then won't ultracaps replace them as soon as they're cost effective?

Re:Fortunately (1)

Hackeron (704093) | about 7 years ago | (#20492333)

Err, the way I understand it, supercapacitors would be great to utilize available energy, say when you use your breaks in your car, and then feed the energy slowly to a battery. So other than instant charging, what advantages would a super capacitor have to a battery?

Re:Fortunately (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20492465)

They'd be cheaper, they'd be solid state, none explosive, inert, they'd charge much faster, and you can draw on them much faster. If ultra caps had near the density of LiIon bats, they'd be superior in every way, chemical batteries would be completely pointless.

Re:Fortunately (1)

Hackeron (704093) | about 7 years ago | (#20492501)

capacitors are non explosive? wow, you learn something new every day.

I suppose at least they normally whistle before they go KABOOM!

Re:Fortunately (1)

evanbd (210358) | about 7 years ago | (#20492531)

The obvious ones: higher energy density (meaning smaller and lighter, or longer life between charges), higher efficiency (and therefore less heat generation on charge / discharge), no flammable components, higher charge / discharge rates (and therefore faster charge / higher power density). All but the first (energy density) are available now, and they only lag batteries by about a factor of 10 in energy density. But if the stuff people have in labs turns into real products, or the rumors in the article I cited are correct, we'll see that last part change in the relatively near future (1-5 years, depending who you listen to). Also, don't underestimate the value of instant charging -- wouldn't it be neat to drop your cell phone on the charger for 30 seconds whenever it's convenient and have it be fully charged? Or your laptop charge in 5 minutes instead of 2 hours? That convenience factor is at least interesting, if not earth-shattering.

Re:Fortunately (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 7 years ago | (#20492469)

It's not ideal for batteries to push big currents. Capacitors can. I expect capacitors to be used as a buffer in front of the batteries.

I'll believe the energy density improvement when I see it.
 

Re:Fortunately (1)

farkus888 (1103903) | about 7 years ago | (#20491851)

I am not exactly certain what you mean by "gone the way of NIMH" I personally use all rechargeable AA batteries in household electronics and run hobby class electric RC vehicles in my free time and all of my batteries are NIMH except in my cell phone where the battery was included in the deal. [it also benefits more from weight and size than my tv remote or wii remotes do] I have not switched to LION because its not available in AA and their liklihood of going boom, check out the youtube videos of them going off... scary. NICAD on the other hand I have not used in years because of energy density, weight, and self discharge outweighing their increased current. I spent a lot of time researching the options before I decided NIMH are currently the best way to go before I shelled out the ~$500 I have vested in batteries and chargers between RC and household electronics.

Re:Fortunately (1)

evanbd (210358) | about 7 years ago | (#20491899)

I mean exactly what you think I mean -- used in some applications, but not the most performance-critical ones. In the same way that NiMH batteries are available and in use now, I expect some form of LiIon to be available and in use even once supercaps are widespread.

Re:Fortunately (1)

farkus888 (1103903) | about 7 years ago | (#20492021)

the only situations where LION is ruling the market is in devices where weight is towards the top of the list of concerns, laptops and cell phones. no one else is using it. everything else is mixed /partially/ LION at most. seriously go watch those videos on youtube, you'd be scared out of using LION's more than necessary. think white hot road flare.

Re:Fortunately (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20491991)

Battery fetish?

I use products with Lithium batteries because I don't like to touch them. I don't want to regularly pop batteries out of electronics to recharge them.

Re:Fortunately (1)

jamesh (87723) | about 7 years ago | (#20492227)

NiCad batteries have a slower self-discharge rate, and can deliver more current than NiMh, so they still have their use. Anecdotally, in my TV remote control and wall clock I get better life out of a lower Ah NiCad than a higher Ah NiMh, because the NiCad tends not to go flat all by itself. I use the NiMh in my phone though, which doesn't draw a lot of current but which I will have used all the available charge in the batteries in a day or two anyway.

I believe the remote control car hobbyists (where the car is run by battery) prefer NiCad because of the better ability to deliver current, but being slashdot, i'm sure someone will correct me :)

Re:Fortunately (1)

farkus888 (1103903) | about 7 years ago | (#20492307)

hmm, some further research shows I did have self discharge of NIMH and NICAD backwards. I am certain that RC hobbyist are using NIMH because we can use a cheap capacitor to make up for the slower current draw and easily get batteries with 2x the capacity[twice the run time] pretty easily.

for reference I mostly posted to admit my mistake honestly instead of mysteriously disappearing from the thread, I just went ahead with correcting you on the RC batteries so you have it straight for future reference when trying to sound omnipotent on /.

on second thought those of us who run rc cars are as factioned and argumentative as /.ers so someone else who runs RC will disagree with me. but it doesn't change that I am right!

Re:Fortunately (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 7 years ago | (#20492629)

Shouldn't etanol or whatever you use be perfect? Plenty of energy and there are never any need to "recharge", just refill and there you go?

Or are nimh cars better nowadays? How does run time and "power" compare?

Re:Fortunately (2, Interesting)

Stevecrox (962208) | about 7 years ago | (#20491933)

You realise capacitors explode if you put to much energy into them right? So your argueing instead of using a technology that builds up and catches fire we instead compress the energy into a smaller density in a design which can and does explode. Sure there might be easier ways to contain an explosion. But its not better it just presents different problems.

Re:Fortunately (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 7 years ago | (#20492041)

You realise capacitors explode if you put to much energy into them right?So, now we are going to trade explosive gasoline for explosive capacitors. And yes, Gas tanks exploded back in the 50's and 60's. Then simple re-designs took care of that. I suspect we will do the same for our new electric cars.

that won't solve problems (4, Insightful)

sentientbrendan (316150) | about 7 years ago | (#20491989)

As others have mentioned, the problem with the existing batteries is energy density. All fuel sources have the exact some problem, from capacitors, to uranium, to gasoline. They can release all that energy dangerously under the wrong conditions. This isn't a problem for which there is any easy fix, other than being really careful to insure those conditions are never met.

Existing capacitors in your computer can make quite a boom...

It's more to do with the heat (1)

gilesjuk (604902) | about 7 years ago | (#20492449)

Lithium Ion batteries don't like getting hot, once they do they go into meltdown and the chemicals become unstable.

Panasonic recently developed a safer battery which has heat insulation.

Re:Fortunately (2, Interesting)

Alioth (221270) | about 7 years ago | (#20492445)

Depending on the characteristics of the supercapacitor, they can be even more dangerous. Capacitors generally can discharge at incredibly high rates. With the high energy density of an ultracapacitor, the effects will be spectacular.

If you want to see what just a few nanofarads of charge can do, take a look at a Tesla coil, or perhaps this - the Destruct-o-Tron: http://www.electricstuff.co.uk/destructotron.html [electricstuff.co.uk]

Re:Fortunately (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 7 years ago | (#20492587)

The way of nimh? Am I the only one who prefers nimh over li-ion? Mostly so because I can get them in AA/AAA/whatever thought. Also I like to know that they don't drop a lot in capacity.

Sad News Friends (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20491785)

I just heard some sad news on talk radio - Tenor Pavarotti was found dead in his hospital room this morning. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his work, there's no denying his contributions to popular culture. Truly an American icon.

Re:Sad News Friends (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20492005)

American icon? Please, you should know better.

Here's an old tribute to Luciano Pavarotti that I thought was appropriate:

http://www.rathergood.com/elephants [rathergood.com]

OMG! Invented by Sony! (4, Funny)

feepness (543479) | about 7 years ago | (#20491805)

It MUST be bad!

Calm down man (1)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | about 7 years ago | (#20492759)

It's not the Power Glove.

Lithium polymer, not all lithium batteries (5, Informative)

nietsch (112711) | about 7 years ago | (#20492101)

The batteries that are causing troubles now are all Lithium polymer batteries. The electrolyte-fluid in them has been replaced with a polymer that amongst other things made it possible to replace the heavy metal cylinder with aluminium/plastic packaging and make the battery in all kinds of forms.
Unfortunately, at the same time the chemistry of the cells was changed such that if a thermal runaway ever happened, the venting gasses would ignite with oxygen and would ignite the cells next to it too. That is exactly what is happening.
I am rather supprised that no one yet has mentioned A123 systems. They make/market a new type of lithium-(nano)phosphate cell, that has none of the drawbacks of lithium-polymer batteries. They will not catch fire in a thermal runaway or when pierced, can be much more abused than LiPos and have a much longer lifespan to boot (2000 cycles instead of 500). It's no wonder that these batteries will be in the next generation of hybrid cars, as they weigh half as much as the NiMH batteries used now (LiPo would be too dangerous in a collision) and can generate much more current too. (~10C for NiMH, ~40C for A123).
So there is hope one the battery technology front, it's just that the current best option is a bit dangerous.

Sony did not invent Li-Ion (2, Informative)

enrevanche (953125) | about 7 years ago | (#20492313)

They were first released commercially by Sony, they were not invented by Sony.

Solution! (1, Flamebait)

Fizzl (209397) | about 7 years ago | (#20492359)

Don't pack so much energy into such small package! Use conventional lead batteries instead!

Seriously, the problem is that the technology has excellent properties of low internal resistance and high capacity per mass. If the pack shorts for reason or another, all the energy is released in short order, causing it to practically explode.

There is also another problem. The charging. The Li-Ion/Polymer batteries will not chemically stop charging when they are "full" in terms of what it is supposed to hold. You can overcharge the pack until it gets unstable and finally shorts itself, again causing the explosion.

There is nothing you can do to the electrochemical pair without losing its positive characteristics. External safe guards, such as charge cutters and current limiters can only do so much. The pack can still short internally.

microturbines (1)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | about 7 years ago | (#20492365)

I've been waiting to see ethanol-fueled microturbines [wikipedia.org] in the mass market for a while now, and have so far been disappointed. They're a bit big for phones but ought to work in laptops and would IMO be spectacular for power tools. They pose their own dangers, though; what happens when a fuel cell ruptures and the turbine turns into a flamethrower?

Re:microturbines (1)

Ptur (866963) | about 7 years ago | (#20492739)

They pose their own dangers, though; what happens when a fuel cell ruptures and the turbine turns into a flamethrower?


You get a build-in paint stripper?

Fuel for MacGyver (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#20492605)

Wait! If we get rid of lithium batteries, how will MacGyver whip up an improvised fusion weapon from a laptop battery, heavy water, and high explosives?

The reason behind the problem is simple (4, Interesting)

harlemjoe (304815) | about 7 years ago | (#20492701)

The Coward who posted this writes:

The reasons behind the recent spate of problems with a technology invented by Sony more than a decade ago are complex and varied,

No, the reasons are not ambiguous, they are clearly outlined. There is nothing wrong with the technology, the entire problem is the lack of quality control in battery factories in China. Sony is not the only one to get screwed by poor QC in Chinese factories, so has Mattell who are scrambling to recall ~20 million toys painted with lead paint [www.ctv.ca] , and J&J, who are scrambling to recall 10 million fake diabetes kits [bloomberg.com]

In the article itself, fingers are clearly pointed

But Don Sadoway, a professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT who is an expert in advanced battery technologies, worries about off-shoring of a chemistry he asserts "needs to be treated with respect."

"I have 100% confidence in the Japanese battery manufacturers," he says. "And my guess is that they never had the problems they're seeing now when the same batteries were manufactured from start to finish in Japan."

I don't think anybody realizes just how shoddy quality control is in China. Just as there is absolutely no respect for intellectual property, the Chinese, being new to capitalism, don't understand the value of quality control. They've never had to suffer the consequences of legal action.

The culture just does not exist. Some argue that this is a good sign, a necessary phase in capitalism that China is passing through that the USA passed through once before [boston.com] .

I'm not trying to be a troll. China I'm sure will improve and their industry is surely chastened by the huge hue and cry around the world. But until things get better, watch out, and for more than just exploding batteries:


Just setting the record straight ...

Negative story - lets mention Sony! (2)

asc99c (938635) | about 7 years ago | (#20492713)

Didn't Bell Labs and university researchers come up with Lithium Ion technology. Sony were first to market commercially, but I've never seen anything crediting them with the invention of the technology.

Many reasons for Lithium Batteries (2, Informative)

Televiper2000 (1145415) | about 7 years ago | (#20492751)

It's all about size, weight, and the abusive charge cycle that laptops and cellphones are required to go through. From what I've read, the thing that really stands out for lithium batteries is the lack of cell memory. Here's a link comparing 4 battery types: http://batteryuniversity.com/partone-21.htm [batteryuniversity.com]
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