Lithium battery technology has been around the block… a few times. Work on lithium batteries has been charging forward for a century, with the first lithium batteries available on shelves in the 1970’s, with rechargeable batteries following close behind. Lithium-ion’s journey to becoming one of the most energy-dense battery options to date hasn’t been entirely smooth, however. You may have heard reports of recalled batteries due to potentially dangerous reactions.
So, what’s the verdict? Are Lithium-Ion batteries safe to use?
The short answer is Yes.
Keep reading to find out why many companies are rallying behind lithium-ion technology, and why you can rest easy with these batteries in your home.
Non-metallic lithium-ions are the answer to lithium metal’s inherent instability.
You may have heard somewhere that there is an “inherent instability” within lithium metal. This is true. It’s why research shifted from lithium metal to non-metallic lithium battery technology using lithium-ions. Even though moving to ions sacrifices a little bit of energy density, the lithium-ion system is safe, and meets a high standard of stability when charging and discharging. This is why lithium-ion technology has become one of the most successful and safe battery chemistries ever. Every year, upwards of two billion cells are produced. We’re running on lithium-ion batteries, and we’re running pretty smoothly.
Compared to nickel-based and lead acid-based battery technology, which was what was widely used before li-ions broke into the scene, lithium ion batteries hold twice to four times more energy, are low maintenance, and don’t required scheduled cycling to prolong their battery life. Lithium-ion batteries don’t have the same sulfation problem that lead acid batteries do, and on top of all that, lithium-ion battery disposal is comparably green, and causes minimal harm to the environment.
Battery manufacturers continue to push the limits of what lithium-ion battery technology can do, but the focus on responsible manufacturing methods and increased safety measures has remained the center of the industry.
I’ve heard about lithium-ion battery recalls. What’s the deal with that?
Since the development of lithium-ion battery technology has really taken off, these batteries have been thrown into almost every cell phone, digital camera, and laptop on the market. With so many people using lithium-ion batteries every single day, there’s bound to be a snag or two. Both Dell and Apple have run into heat-related battery failures, and since both companies wanted to take the problems very seriously, they took a conservative route, and recalled millions of laptops. These particular batteries, manufactured by Sony, were contaminated by tiny metallic particles, causing the batteries to short-circuit. Small amounts of particles cause a mild short in the battery, which usually results in elevated discharge, but not very much heat. It takes a high number of metal particles to cause a major electrical short--the ones that are really going to heat things up. To make sure this doesn’t happen, Sony, along with other lithium-ion battery manufacturers, have fitted battery packs with dividers that will prevent a higher number of metal particles from gathering together, and causing a more serious problem.
Apple and Dell’s conservative response to the short-circuiting batteries is a reflection of the high safety standards of the battery manufacturing industry on a whole. When any hint of a battery issue arises, the companies affected respond quickly and thoroughly, making sure customers are safe.
How do battery manufacturers ensure the safety of their products?
Taking into account the number of lithium-ion battery packs out there, heat related failures are incredibly rare. Battery manufacturers ensure the safety of their batteries by adding three layers of protection:
Manufacturers make sure every battery has an internal balance between energy density and safety. Companies will never sacrifice safety for higher energy density. Giving batteries a little more power isn’t worth putting customers at risk.
Each battery cell includes its own safety mechanisms. Battery manufacturers are taking safety to a micro-level, making sure not only their manufacturing methods are safe, but that each and every battery cell itself can pass a checklist of safety requirements.
Battery manufacturers have developed the addition of an electronic protection circuit in each battery pack.
These three layer of protection work together to make sure that each battery pack is protected from high current surges. Batteries now include a safety vent to allow a controlled release of gas in case there is an increase in cell pressure. The electronic protection circuit we just mentioned cuts the battery’s flow if the temperature of the outside of the battery gets too high, to protect you and anything around the battery from damage.
Keeping every battery working well isn’t just in your best interest, but it’s in the best interest of the battery manufacturers as well. These extensive precautions are there to make sure the industry can power forward safely and effectively.
So if you’re using a lithium-ion battery, here’s what you should know.
If your battery, or the device that uses the battery, has been crushed or damaged, get a new one. Nothing works well when it’s damaged, and batteries are no exception. Damaged batteries are, understandably, at a higher risk of failure. Replace your battery when it needs it!
When replacing your battery, stick with the original brand. There are non-brand battery manufacturers overseas that offer lithium-ion products at a lower price. However, that low price tag may come with a lower safety standard. Spend a little more, and get an approved battery model from a well-established brand. Many of the stories you hear about malfunctioning batteries come from non-brand manufacturers overseas.
Know the limits of the battery you’re using. Everything you buy, from cars to sporting equipment to screen doors to electronics, comes with a user manual. It’s always smart to know how to take care of your things. One major thing to attention to: how hot or cold your battery can get and still operate well.
Like it does with every industry, the media jumps on mishaps, no matter how minor, drawing everyone’s attention to few times things go wrong. It’s always smart to have a healthy dose of caution when using technology, but make sure you know the facts: lithium-ion batteries are a safe and effective form of battery technology that you can trust.