A team of scientists have come together to monitor how disposable lithium batteries lose power while in use, and they have used advanced 3D imaging techniques to track lithium batteries power loss in real time.
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Publishing their research in the journal Advanced Science, the team of scientists came from UCL, University of Manchester, Oregon State University, The European Synchrotron (ESRF), the National Physical Laboratory, and Harwell Oxford to track how the batteries in use undergo performance loss and internal structural damage in real time.
Researchers already know that disposable or rechargeable lithium-ion batteries loss power when exposed to heat, but this research gave them the opportunity to track how batteries lose power when in use under everyday conditions.
The research team was compelled to conduct the experiment after calls came in from aviation investigators in August 2015 after an equipment powered by lithium battery failed after a fire incident on a Boeing 787 plane parked at Heathrow Airport in 2013. The plane’s emergency locator transmitter which was powered by a lithium battery was what caught fire and got damaged.
The transmitter is used to transmit radar signals to enable a missing aircraft be located; and it is designed to work for several months or even up to a year until a missing aircraft is found, but the batteries of this particular transmitter drained out, causing concern as to its quality.
"On the outside, the batteries look like they are doing their job normally but inside we saw the structure was undergoing great change,” said UCL PhD student Donal Finegan, first author of the study. “Electrical activity was high in some areas of the cell, whereas it was low in others; layers of electrode material separated and cracked. All of these changes in structure affect the flow of electricity and reduce the performance of the cell."
Using Li/MnO2 disposable batteries sold in the market, the researchers used X-ray computed tomography scan and sophisticated digital volume correlation software to capture the real-time 3D images of the batteries.
"Lithium disposable batteries are used for mission-critical systems where recharging is impractical, so understanding the safety and reliability of them is important, particularly given recent high-profile cases where batteries on aircraft have failed,” clarified Dr. Paul Shearing of UCL Chemical Engineering. “
We gained valuable insights that apply to a variety of commercial batteries using this system, showing an effective, non-invasive way for industry to monitor performance and improvements in commercial battery design," Dr. Shearing added.
The researchers were able to map the resilience and strain impacted on the material inside a battery so as to enable manufacturers predict the performance of a battery while in use and over time. This method will help battery makers to optimize the material used for commercial batteries so as to make them stronger and more durable.
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The study was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Royal Academy of Engineering, and the National Physical Laboratory.