Expert Says Lithium-Ion Battery Technology Fails to Meet Expectations; Li-Ion Needs to be Safer

5 years ago by Eric Loveday 25

Firefighters Put Out Converted Plug-In Prius-Blaze (photo via IJ photo/Alan Dep)

Firefighters Put Out Converted Plug-In Prius-Blaze (photo via IJ photo/Alan Dep)

This is sure to be controversial, so we’ll premise this post with this: InsideEVs does not necessarily endorse or support the views presented by “the experts” at a forum organized by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

“The experts,” which here refers to Yet-Ming Chiang, a professor of materials science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told US regulators that lithium-ion battery technology has failed to meet expectation on several fronts.

According to Chiang, li-ion battery sales are far below expectations and the technology’s performance is not where battery makers claimed it would be a few years ago.  Furthermore, Chiang questions the overall safety of today’s lithium-ion battery and says that the technology must be modified to ensure adequate safety.

NHSTA Volt Fire (click to enlarge)

NHSTA Volt Fire (click to enlarge)

Chiang was called to testify at the NTSB in regards to the batter-related issues on Boeing’s Dreamliner aircraft.

Chiang is quoted as saying that 2008 projections that predicted the size of the lithium-ion market in 2011 “were off by more than a factor of 10.”  Chiang added that these miscalculated assumptions “created a great deal of stress among those who manufacture batteries.”  Some of those manufacturers went out of business, says Chiang.  But most of the ones that did were ill-equipped to ever survive, counters InsideEVs

Quoting Chiang:

“Even today there’s a large (manufacturing) capacity worldwide that’s not utilized and I attribute it mainly to the cost factor.”

On the topic of safety, Chiang testified that 25 percent of a typical lithium-ion battery cell is flammable, which apparently increases the risk of fire, but as followers of electric vehicles know, cases of battery fires are rare and will almost certainly remain below the percentage of gas-fueled automobiles that have gone up in flames.

The safety issue, which in our eyes in a non-issue, seems to be the point of countless attacks on lithium-ion technology and on plug-in vehicles.  Will this lack-of-safety misconception ever fade?

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25 responses to "Expert Says Lithium-Ion Battery Technology Fails to Meet Expectations; Li-Ion Needs to be Safer"

  1. GeorgeS says:

    I guess we need to see this in the light of the 787 fires. Not ALL Lithium battery tech is the same. Some are more combustible than others. GM spent a whole lot of time investigating the safety aspects of the different chemistries.

    Boeing did not. They just jumped into the lightest highest power density chemistry without much studying (which is highly unusual for Boeing).

    I think instead of making blanket statements such as this she should have just told the NTSB that Boeing needs to come up with a long range fix to the 787 battery which uses a less combustible battery chemistry.

      1. kdawg says:

        And after reading this it appear Chiang is poo-poo-ing Li-ion batteries because he’s

        1. Bitter about A123 and his new company
        2. Pushing for his technology

        http://www.technologyreview.com/news/420244/new-battery-for-cheap-electric-vehicles/

  2. jeff says:

    I think it’s some level of physics. You pack that much energy into such a smalll space and it’s going to have a lot of potential.
    I for one would prefer a “safer” chemistry – even with less energy and put up with using more space and/or lower range.

    I don’t want to be driving a rolling flare that goes off if I hit road debris.

    1. Unplugged says:

      Given the number of lithium batteries on the road today (thousands) and the number of fires that resulted from a collision* (none), I would suggest that the technology is quite safe.

      *Not counting a collision test of a Volt where a fire occurred hours later because the Volt was not properly de-energized.

      Is there even ONE situation where road debris even remotely caused a lithium battery fire?

      1. thomas J. Thias says:

        Unplugged, just a “little redirect in your comment. The event that occurred under NHTSA watch in June of 2011 hapened over 420 hours, that is 2 and 1/2 weeks after the side impact crash test with, as you stated, a fully charged drive battery.
        As GM CEO Dan Ackerson stated to the US Congressional, Issa Hearing of a year ago, paraphrasing here, ‘One Customer told me that if he found himself in a car 2 and 1/2 weeks after a crash he would have much more to wory about th a car fire!”

        Best-

        Thomas J. Thias

    2. Then you definitely don’t want to drive a gas car Jeff! A typical gas car is carrying around 15-20 time the energy as an 80 – 100 mile EV is!

  3. Suprise Cat says:

    Someone should start a webpage to collect cases of burning gasoline cars, it will be well filled within a single week.

    1. Sanjay says:

      I totally agree. I faced similar accident while driving a gasoline car. Fortunately, fire did not reached from engine to tank. But still, battery techonoly is to be upgraded to enhance range. EVs are boon for the small countries and island cities. I am living on island and no one drive for long distances as length of the road is limited.

  4. Mark H says:

    The number of gas fires would be nice, but the percentage of ICW vs EV would be even better.

    On the topic of safety, Chiang testified that 25 percent of a typical lithium-ion battery cell is flammable, which apparently increases the risk of fire, but as followers of electric vehicles know, cases of battery fires are rare and will almost certainly remain below the percentage of gas-fueled automobiles that have gone up in flames.”
    Eric, you put the idea out there, report us a number! (please)

    1. Mark H says:

      ICE and some quotations to the article edit edit

      1. GeorgeS says:

        Exactly,
        The same dumb arguments are used against Nuclear power.
        If you look at deaths per GWH electric and nuclear are at the top of the list

        1. Bill Howland says:

          Uh huh, ask the remaining Chernobyl liquidators and all the others In Ukraine and
          Belarus about how safe Nuclear Power is. (Estimates are around 994,000 casualties). Or the kids near Fukushima, 30% of which now have thyroid problems . Or The US west cost kids experiencing a 28% rise in thryoid problems since 3/11/11.

          The big experts used to dismiss Chernobyl deaths since it was a “Communist Run Plant”.

          Fukushima, however was pure capitalist, a TurnKey GE operation.. 3 out of 3 containments leaked, and the molten cores are now melted down and melted through (3 china syndromes). Unit 3 also suffered a Detonation explosion wave, something no containment ever built could survive.

          No worries though mate, we only have 22 GE Mark I thru III style reactors in this country, all with more densely populated spent fuel pools on the 7th floors of the buildings than at Fukushima.

  5. Mark H says:

    http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/pdf/vehicleexecsum.pdf
    Here are the gas fires if the dynamic duo Jay/Eric can produce the EV number

    1. GeorgeS says:

      but it could be statistically insignificant due to a low sampling rate on the battery side.

      1. Mark H says:

        It seems like the data is based on fires reported. I know of at least a few EV fires that were blamed initially on the car, then the charger, but ultimately turned out to be faulty wiring. But I say count those fores too, because the math is no where near that of the ICE. Man I hate fear mongering and negative spin.

        1. Jay Cole says:

          Jay has been living out of an airport today, and still has a another flight to catch…so he is sadly unavailable to do any research because his smart phone is a huge pain the butt, heeh.

          1. GeorgeS says:

            It’s a big sacrifice but it’s worth it 🙂

          2. Mark H says:

            The only number missing is total ICE accidents vs EV accidents for comparisons. Our NC governor is now threatening to remove alternative energy credits. Never underestimate the power of money.

          3. Eric Loveday says:

            And Eric is far too busy picking up Jay’s vacational slack to hunt down obscure figures on this one.

    2. Mark H says:

      http://statspotting.com/total-number-of-cars-in-the-us-246-million/
      236,000 fires out of 250,000,000 vehicles on the rd in 2008 = .0944% (tenth of percent)
      70,000+ EVs on the road says we are looking for 66+ fires last year or 140+ fires this year…..

  6. thomas J. Thias says:

    Thus far owners and lessors of the Amazing Chevy Volt EREV in North Amarica have traveled well over a quarter billion miles. Over 170 million miles have been all electric.
    No reported incidents thus far.

    Source-
    OnStar data dump-
    Chevrolet.com/volt
    (Scroll down page)

    Best-

    Thomas J. Thias

    @AmazingChevVolt

  7. thomas J. Thias says:

    I’ll sign off this way-
    Since the late December, 2010 beta limited beta test deployment the numbet of PHEV, BEV, PEV and EREV Vehicles on the road world wide are approaching the quarter million in sales mark.
    This fact, while speaking strongly to the success of our current li-Ion tech is flatly stunning!

    Best-

    Thomas J. Thias
    The Amazing Chevy Volt Extended Range Electric Vehicle- Facts Guy

  8. kdawg says:

    “Even today there’s a large (manufacturing) capacity worldwide that’s not utilized and I attribute it mainly to the cost factor.”
    —————————-

    No, it’s due to DB’s like you, who keep attacking the technology and spreading FUD for unjustified reasons.

  9. Steven says:

    If ICE technology were only just invented, who would volunteer to put ten gallons of the stuff in a moving vehicle?