Every day, lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are used safely in millions of cell phones, laptops, and electric-drive vehicles (EDVs). At the same time, Li-ion batteries have a tendency to overheat in very rare occasions, which has led to electronics product recalls and the grounding of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner airplane shortly after its maiden flight. The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently patented the Internal Short Circuit (ISC) device to enhance these battery designs by testing the effects of a latent internal short circuit and related escalating temperatures, which can lead to thermal runaway and hazards for drivers, air passengers—and astronauts.
Space explorers' very lives depend on the reliability of Li-ion batteries used to power everything from communications systems to lights and breathing apparatus. The similarities between Li-ion batteries used in spacesuits and EDVs led NREL to join forces with NASA in finding new, more precise ways to trigger internal short circuits, predict reactions, and establish safeguards in the design of battery cells and packs. Now, the resulting first-of-its-kind ISC device is being used by NREL, NASA, and manufacturers to study battery responses to these latent flaws and determine solutions.