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Analytical Chemistry

Peering Inside An Exploding Battery

Battery Safety: High-resolution X-ray tomography coupled with thermal imaging provides detailed 3-D view of thermal runaway in a battery while it occurs

by Mitch Jacoby
May 4, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 18

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Credit: Nat. Commun.
A new imaging method reveals in real time events inside a commercial Li-ion battery (roughly 18 mm in diameter) that cause it to explode and eject molten material.
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Credit: Nat. Commun.
A new imaging method reveals in real time events inside a commercial Li-ion battery (roughly 18 mm in diameter) that cause it to explode and eject molten material.

By coupling high-speed X-ray tomography and thermal imaging methods, researchers have demonstrated that events occurring inside a lithium-ion battery as it heats up and explodes can be imaged in high resolution and real time (Nat. Commun. 2015, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7924). The three-dimensional imaging method provides a novel way to investigate heat-induced damage to internal structures of Li-ion batteries, which could lead to improved battery safety. Standard analytical methods are limited to scrutinizing the internal components of failed batteries only after the events that caused the failure have run their course. So a team led by Paul R. Shearing of University College London devised the tomography method and used it to study two standard types of commercial Li-ion batteries as they heated the battery shells to roughly 250 °C. One battery, strengthened with an internal support, remained largely intact until chemical reactions triggered thermal runaway. The internal temperature then spiked above 1,000 °C, melting copper structures inside the battery. The other battery simply exploded, blowing off the battery cap and ejecting molten material.

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