The Importance of Li-ion Battery Safety – Part 1

Lithium ion batteries stand out among chemical energy storage devices due to their high energy density, high power density, and long service life. They have been widely used in the field of portable electronic products due to their mature technology. With the support of national policies, the demand for lithium-ion batteries in the fields of electric vehicles and large-scale energy storage is also experiencing explosive growth.


Lithium ion batteries are generally safe, but there are reports of safety accidents that are presented to the public. Famous examples include battery fires on Boeing 737 and B 787 aircraft in recent years, as well as Tesla Model S fires. Until now, safety remains a key factor restricting the application of lithium-ion batteries in high-energy and high-power fields. Thermal runaway is not only the fundamental cause of safety issues, but also one of the shortcomings that constrain the performance of lithium-ion batteries.


The potential safety issues of lithium-ion batteries greatly affect consumer confidence. Although it is expected that BMS can accurately monitor safety conditions and predict the occurrence of certain faults, the situation of thermal runaway is complex and diverse, and it is difficult for a single technical system to ensure all safety conditions faced during its life cycle. Therefore, analyzing and studying the causes of thermal runaway is still necessary for a safe and reliable lithium-ion battery.


There have been many related studies on the chemical reactions involved in the occurrence of thermal runaway in thermal analysis, and this article will not elaborate further. This article takes the lifeline of power batteries as a clue to explain and analyze the factors and solutions that constrain the safety performance of a lithium-ion battery during its life cycle, in order to provide valuable basis for the study of safety issues.


1 Battery Cell material

The internal composition of lithium-ion batteries mainly consists of the positive electrode, electrolyte, separator, and negative electrode. Based on this, the electrode ears are welded, and the outer packaging is wrapped to form a complete battery cell. After the initial charging and discharging, formation, and capacitance separation steps of the battery cell, it can be used at the factory. The first step in this process is the selection of materials. The main factors affecting the safety of materials are their intrinsic orbital energy, crystal structure, and material properties


1.1 Positive electrode material

The main role of positive electrode active materials in batteries is to contribute specific capacity and specific energy, and their intrinsic electrode potential has a certain impact on safety. In recent years, lithium iron phosphate, a medium and low voltage material, has been widely used as the positive electrode material for power batteries in transportation vehicles (such as hybrid electric vehicles (HEVS) and electric vehicle EVS) and energy storage devices (such as uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) worldwide.


However, the safety advantage demonstrated by lithium iron phosphate in many materials is actually at the cost of sacrificing energy density, which restricts the endurance of its users (such as EVS, UPS). Although ternary materials exhibit excellent energy density, as ideal positive electrode materials for power batteries, their safety issues have not been fully addressed.


In order to study the thermal behavior of positive electrode materials, researchers have done a lot of work and found that the intrinsic electrode potential and crystal structure are the main factors affecting their safety. For example, the perfect match between the potential of the positive electrode material and the highest molecular orbital occupied by the electrolyte HOMO directly affects the stability of the electrolyte;



The starting temperature and heat release of reactions between different positive electrode materials and electrolytes may vary depending on whether multiple lithium ions can smoothly pass through the lattice simultaneously. By selecting material types and element doping, selecting materials that match the potential and electrolyte electrochemical window, have higher initial reaction temperatures, and lower reaction heat release, the safety performance of the battery cell can be improved from the perspective of positive electrode active materials.



1.2 Negative electrode materials

The impact of negative electrode active materials on safety performance mainly comes from their intrinsic orbital energy and electrolyte configuration relationship. During the fast charging process, the speed of lithium ions passing through the SEI film may be slower than the deposition speed of lithium on the negative electrode. The dendrites of lithium will continue to grow with the charging and discharging cycles, which may cause internal short circuits and ignite combustible electrolytes, leading to thermal runaway. This characteristic limits the safety of the negative electrode during the fast charging process.


In addition to the growth of lithium dendrites, the reaction between the negative electrode material and the electrolyte is also an important factor affecting safety performance. At around 100 ℃, exothermic peaks of lithium embedded graphite and electrolyte can be observed, which is also considered a decomposition reaction of SEI film. The reaction rate increases with the increase of the specific surface area of the negative electrode material.


After the decomposition of the SEI film, the lithium embedded in the negative electrode will continue to react with the electrolyte and binder to release heat, and the reaction heat increases with the increase of lithium insertion amount. By improving the thermal stability of SEI, reducing the specific surface area of negative electrode materials, and reducing the amount of lithium embedded, the performance of the battery cell can also be improved from the perspective of negative electrode materials.


1.3 Electrolytes and membranes

The impact of electrolytes and separators on safety is mainly due to their characteristics. Although the thermal stability of lithium salts is a fundamental factor affecting the thermal stability of electrolytes, their impact on battery safety performance is limited due to their relatively small decomposition reaction heat. The flammability and liquid state of widely used commercial electrolytes are important factors affecting safety.


In addition, using electrolytes with wider electrochemical windows (especially higher LUMO) and adding flame retardant materials to the electrolyte, such as modifying mixed ionic liquids and organic liquid electrolytes into non flammable electrolytes, are effective ways to improve safety. The mechanical strength (tensile and puncture strength), porosity, thickness uniformity, and rupture temperature of the diaphragm are important factors determining its safety.


The application of ceramic coatings in diaphragms can increase the mechanical strength of the original membrane, enabling the diaphragm to exhibit excellent performance in high temperature resistance, puncture resistance, and thickness reduction. The temperature at which the microporous structure is closed, whether too high or too low, can affect the performance of the battery cell. Therefore, it is necessary to comprehensively consider the composition of the membrane polymer and the optimal configuration of the porous structure, while ensuring that the rupture temperature is higher than the interruption temperature.


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