SEP 26, 2017 05:13 AM PDT

The Chemistry in Battery Explosions


The stories of exploding cell phone batteries have been in the news for about the last year. The problem is not limited to cell phones either. Hoverboards, those super cool lithium-ion powered scooters, are also under scrutiny. Some models of phones have been discontinued and certain brands have even been banned by airlines, because of the potential danger they cause. What's causing this issue? Is it the caustic chemicals in the batteries or another issue?

Batteries work when electrodes travel from a negatively charged anode to a positively charged cathode and creating energy. Lithium is what the cathodes contain. While these components are lightweight and efficient, they can also be volatile. The spontaneous combustion that has happened with some lithium-ion batteries is called thermal runaway. Essentially anything that gets that hot, and is near oxygen, can combine to make quite a flame out. Lab tests have shown that temperatures can rise as high as 850 degrees Celsius. Scientists, including John Goodenough, the inventor of the original lithium-ion battery, have come up with a better design that is safer, less volatile and not as prone to catching your pants, or anything else, on fire. His fix includes using glass as an electrolyte to spur the charge, eliminating the dangerous alkyl carbonates in current lithium-ion batteries
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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