CAT scans show lithium-ion battery thermal runaway

Batteries are tough to test in both the R&D phases. Sure, you can measure the voltage, charge flow, and temperature, and even physical dimension changes, but after that, it’s a struggle to see what’s going on internally. However, since batteries improvements are of such high interest, there are few limits that researchers won’t investigate to gain real insight.

For example, I just came across a set of articles and an academic paper by a team at University College London (UCL) which clearly illustrates the extremes to which the battery-test community will go to see what is otherwise not seeable. The team developed a complex set-up which performed an internal computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan on lithium batteries in real time so they could see what going on inside, Figure 1 .

Figure 1 (a) Cut-away of battery-containment design attached to the rotation stage for real-time x-ray CAT scan; (b) arrangement of apparatus thermal runaway experiments; (c) 3D reconstruction with slices in the XY, YZ, and XZ planes of a 2.6 amp-hour battery (Cell 1) with isolated XY slice; (d) 3D reconstruction with slices in the XY, YZ, and XZ planes of a 2.2 amp-hour battery (Cell 2) with isolated XY slice. (Image source: University College London and Nature )

The objective was to get detailed insight into the unfortunate and well-known, but hard-to-decode, aspect of these batteries: their tendency to overheat and explode/catch fire under some circumstances, which is dramatically and quite correctly called thermal runaway, Figure 2 . This has happened in large and small battery packs, such as the Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft, hoverboards, and even unplugged laptops.

Figure 2 (a) External view of Cell 2 after thermal runaway showing the burst cap and protruding internal contents. The black marks indicate the points at which the bottom slice of the corresponding tomogram begins; (b) 3D reconstruction showing isolated copper phase (yellow), other broken-down material (semi-transparent dark grey) and battery casing (blue) where the copper phase is mostly still intact. (Image source: University College London and Nature )

2 thoughts on “CAT scans show lithium-ion battery thermal runaway

  1. “It's amazing to think about what small little things can give rise to such huge problems. I reckon that you'll see a lot of people scrambling to try and determine the problems in the same way for the next few months given the recent issues with Boeing tha

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  2. “Well, that is one way how technology can help us uncover more truths about other technologies and that is exactly what we need. We might not need the technology directly but its usage might be for another unrelated technology advancement and that is the k

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