Crash-testing lithium-ion batteries

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - 03:30 in Physics & Chemistry

Lithium-ion batteries are lightweight, fully rechargeable, and can pack a lot of energy into a small volume — making them attractive as power sources for hybrid and electric vehicles. However, there’s a significant downside: Overheating and collisions may cause the batteries to short-circuit and burst into flames. Engineers have worked to improve the safety of lithium-ion batteries, largely by designing elaborate systems to cool and protect battery packs. But Tomasz Wierzbicki, a professor of applied mechanics and director of MIT’s Impact and Crashworthiness Laboratory, says there may be ways to make batteries themselves more resilient — an improvement that could reduce the bulk of protective housing, in turn reducing fuel costs. First, though, Wierzbicki says engineers need to understand the mechanical properties and physical limits of existing batteries. Now he and MIT postdoc Elham Sahraei have studied the resilience of cylindrical lithium-ion batteries similar to those used to power the...

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