In the mad rush to make our gadgets go, a battery manufacturer’s slight oversight could lead to disastrous consequences, as in the recent recall of 6 million Sony laptop batteries prone to explosion and fire. Lithium-ion batteries, the kind used in many electronic devices because of their power efficiency, are especially vulnerable to this kind of problem.
Beyond the obvious health risk of your digital camera or cellphone bursting into flames, errors of this type could devastate a company forced to address the malfunction. Dell and Apple’s recall of the Sony-made batteries are the largest and second-largest recalls in consumer electronics history.
Because consumers are demanding more of ever-smaller devices, engineers are boosting the power generated from lithium-ion batteries while grappling with managing the extreme energy contained in the small package.
Recharging is made easy because the ions can be easily inserted and extracted without major structural changes in the electrode material, Abraham said.
But there are dangers. If the battery isn’t made well, energy can be released very quickly in an uncontrolled fashion.
Abraham said the biggest threat is the possible penetration of the thin barrier made of synthetic material—about as thick as a sheet of paper—that separates the two electrodes and prevents the quick release of energy.