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What Happens Inside A Battery Right Before Its Explosion?


iphone-fire-explosion
Image: YouTube
Swelling of lithium-ion batteries like a pillow is a very common phenomenon. It’s caused due to the “Swiss roll” structure of the batteries. Due to overheating and other factors, the liquid
components of the battery turn into gas and cause the swelling. Further stress, sometimes, results in rupture and explosion. So, the users are advised to avoid battery-intensive tasks for continuous hours.
Exploding gadgets are a new rage these days — Galaxy Note 7, hoverboards, a few iPhones, and what not. Wondering about the cause? Well, it certainly has to do something with the lithium-ion batteries that are used as a power source.
Having said that, have you ever removed the back cover of your smartphone and taken a look at the battery? Very often you might find a swollen battery that refuses to turn back to normal. To study such phenomenon and what happens inside an overworked battery, a new research has been carried out.
While lithium-ion batteries are used widely due to their capacity of holding lots of charge and light weight, they are prone to damage due to their structure. You can compare their structure to a spiraling swiss roll that contains electrode sheet.
Image: Canadian Light Source
Image: Canadian Light Source

What’s inside a swollen battery? What causes the explosion?

According to a researcher Toby Bond and his team at the Canadian Light Source, this configuration is dangerous if gas forms inside. If a battery is overheated or overcharged, or it’s left discharged for a long time, the liquid chemicals can produce gas. This change causes the swelling of the battery.
In such cases, there are three possibilities:
  • The battery can swell a little and keep working
  • It can swell a lot and stop operating.
  • Continuous gas generation can cause rupture, accompanied by fire/explosion.
Using a technique named computed tomography, the researchers found that as gas builds up, the electrode layers buckle and push apart. Due to certain defects in the manufacturing process, the small issues in the battery make this situation more dangerous.
Bond suggests that improvements in the manufacturing process can make lithium-ion batteries less risky. Also, the lithium-ion batteries with no liquid components can also help reduce the risk.
Meanwhile, one should avoid performing battery-intensive tasks for longer hours. This will reduce the chance of overheating and swelling.
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