The Lithium-Ion Battery still not Ready to Power a Practical All-Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 14th, 2013

Week in Review

If you’ve been waiting with bated breath for the all-electric car with a real useful range you can start breathing again.  For the one technology that promised the most is having a setback.  Because of its propensity to burst into flames (see FAA sees lessons from Boeing 787 battery woes by Andrea Shalal-Esa posted 4/13/2013 on Reuters).

Lightweight and power-packed, lithium-ion batteries are used to power electric cars, laptops, tablets, cell phones, satellites. They are even used on the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet. The number of cells manufactured globally has leapt to 4.4 billion in 2012 from 800 million in 2002.

But safety remains an issue. The battery industry still does not have a foolproof way to predict or prevent internal short circuits in the cells, according to experts who spoke about the issue this week at the National Transportation Safety Board forum…

In the Cessna case, the FAA required that lithium-ion batteries in the Cessna Citation Model 525C, be replaced with nickel-cadmium or lead-acid batteries, older technologies that are not as volatile. Airbus officials have said they think lithium-ion batteries can eventually be made safe, but that the company was shifting to nickel-cadmium for its forthcoming A350 jet, because it doesn’t want to risk a delay in bringing the plane to market.

If you’re buying a replacement lithium-ion battery don’t try to save a buck.  Just bite the bullet and buy the brand the manufacturer recommends.  So it doesn’t burst into flames.

If these are not safe to go onto airplanes without some extraordinary precautions just imagine that all-electric car you plug in overnight in your attached garage.  There have been a couple of garage fires.  Not many.  But that’s probably more to do with the fact no one is buying these all-electric cars.   Why are these so dangerous?  Because they contain a lot of energy in a very small package.  Sort of like our early steam engines where a lot of steam pressure was in a very small package.  And when something didn’t go right like a pressure relief valve sticking they blew up in a massive explosion.

This is the risk when you try to get a lot of energy out of small packages.  They can do a lot of work for us.  But if something goes wrong something really bad can happen.  And until we can get past this point in the development of the lithium-ion battery we won’t have a practical all-electric car any time soon.

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