Lithium-ion batteries found to produce toxic gases
Lithium-ion batteries can produce dozens of dangerous gases when overheated, according to a new study from the Institute of NBC Defence and Tsinghua University in China.
The batteries, which are found in billions of consumer devices like smartphones and tablets, were found to leak more than 100 toxic gases including carbon monoxide.
The gases, which are potentially fatal, can cause strong irritation to the skin, eyes and nasal passages, and harm the wider environment.
The researchers behind the study say many people may be unaware of the dangers of overheating, damaging or using a disreputable charger for their rechargeable devices.
“Nowadays, lithium-ion batteries are being actively promoted by many governments all over the world as a viable energy solution to power everything from electric vehicles to mobile devices. The lithium-ion battery is used by millions of families, so it is imperative that the general public understand the risks behind this energy source,” explained Dr Jie Sun, lead author on the study.
The dangers of exploding batteries have led manufacturers to recall millions of devices such as Dell which recalled four million laptops in 2006 and Samsung which has recalled its Galaxy Note 7 devices over problems with battery fires.
But the threats posed by toxic gas emissions and the source of these emissions are not well understood.
Sun and her colleagues identified several factors that can cause an increase in the concentration of the toxic gases emitted.
A fully charged battery will release more toxic gases than a battery with 50 per cent charge, for example. The chemicals contained in the batteries and their capacity to release charge also affected the concentrations and types of toxic gases released.
Identifying the gases produced and the reasons for their emission gives manufacturers a better understanding of how to reduce toxic emissions and protect the wider public, as lithium-ion batteries are used in a wide range of environments.
“Such dangerous substances, in particular carbon monoxide, have the potential to cause serious harm within a short period of time if they leak inside a small, sealed environment, such as the interior of a car or an airplane compartment,” Sun said.
Almost 20,000 lithium-ion batteries were heated to the point of combustion in the study, causing most devices to explode and all to emit a range of toxic gases. Batteries can be exposed to such temperature extremes in the real world, for example, if the battery overheats or is damaged in some way.
The researchers now plan to develop this detection technique to improve the safety of lithium-ion batteries so they can be used to power the electric vehicles of the future safely.