Quirks & Quarks

Blowing up Batteries - for Science!

Researchers take 3-D, high speed x-rays of Lithium-ion batteries as they are heated to the point of failure, in an attempt to make them more reliable.

Scientists test rechargeable batteries to destruction

Thermal camera image of battery at failure, with hot gases escaping through vents at the top of the battery (Donal Finegan, UCL)
Lithium ion batteries are ubiquitous in our modern electronic devices, powering everything for medical implants to cell phones to electric cars. They fail rarely, but when they do, it can be spectacular - and dangerous.

To understand how these batteries do fail, Dr. Paul Shearing, a senior lecturer in Chemical Engineering at University College London, and his colleagues, stress-tested batteries by massively overheating them, and observing the explosive outcome with thermal cameras and high-speed X-ray imaging to get a slow-motion 3-D picture of what happens when these batteries fail.

They hope understanding battery failure will help with the development of safety features that will make rechargeable batteries even more reliable. And as Dr. Shearing admits, watching stuff blow up is fun.

Related Links

- Paper in Nature Communications
- University College London release
BBC News story
Scientific American story