This is what an exploding lithium-ion battery looks like with thermal vision

exploding lithium ion batteries thermal view li explosion
Ever wanted to watch a battery get blasted with a high-energy heat gun until it explodes? And witness the whole thing play out in thermal vision? Well good news — thanks to a team of researchers at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in France, you can now see it happen.

In a study published today in Nature Communications, a group of European researchers pushed two different lithium ion batteries to the breaking point so they could observe what happens when they fatally overheat. Why? For science, of course!

As it turns out, battery overheating is actually a pretty big problem. Lithium ion batteries can be found in everything from cellphones to electric vehicles, and on rare occasions they can fail due to “thermal runaway,” a process in which increased temperatures kick off a chain reaction that makes the battery get hotter and hotter — sometimes indeed causing it to explode. This type of failure is thought to have contributed to a fire that led to a fatal plane crash back in 2010 — and it’s out of concern for this risk that some airlines will soon cease bulk shipments of lithium ion batteries.

Not much is known about the mechanisms that lead to thermal runaway, so to gain some insight on the process, the researchers did what any reasonable scientist would do — they blew up some batteries. To trigger the failure, they aimed a concentrated heat gun at over 200 degrees Celsius (392 Fahrenheit) on a pair of rotating batteries, and used “high-speed synchrotron X-ray computed tomography and radiography, in conjunction with thermal imaging, to track the evolution of internal structural damage and thermal behavior” during the experiment.

In other words, they blasted two different batteries with a ray gun until they died, and filmed the whole thing with a CT scanner and an infrared camera. The results were pretty revealing: In the first battery, which had built-in internal support, the material inside the cell got so hot that it eventually sprayed molten liquid and superheated gas out of its top. In the second battery (which didn’t have an internal support) the cell ended up literally blowing its lid.

Thanks to the footage, the researchers were able to gain major insights into “key degradation modes including gas-induced delamination, electrode layer collapse, and propagation of structural degradation.” The hope is that this information will lead to major improvements in the design of lithium ion batteries that enhance their safety.

Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover passes its tests with flying colors

The Mars 2020 rover team has been undertaking a series of tests to see if the craft will be able to launch, navigate, and land on the Red Planet. Called Systems Test 1, or ST1, these tests represent the first test drive of the new rover.
Emerging Tech

Here are the best (and least likely to explode) hoverboards you can buy

With widespread reports of cheap, knock-off Chinese hoverboards exploding, these self-balancing scooters may be getting a rough reputation. They're not all bad, though. Ride in style with our picks for the best -- and safest -- hoverboards

These Xbox One exclusives are the definition of quality over quantity

Xbox One has a prestigious collection of handpicked titles that you can't play on other consoles. Here are the latest and greatest Xbox One exclusives, including some that are also available on PC

Here's our Champion's guide to picking the best character in Apex Legends

Apex Legends' use of heroes with different abilities helps separate it from other battle royale games. To help you choose your legend, we've put together a legend guide detailing their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

The best of the last generation: Our 50 favorite Xbox 360 games

The Xbox 360 thrived during a generation where games were plentiful. Here's our list of the best Xbox 360 games of all time, including all game genres and even a few special indie hits.

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Petzl to Tikkid, here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

A hive of activity: Using honeybees to measure urban pollution

According to a new study from Vancouver, bees could help us understand urban pollution. Scientists have found an innovative way to measure the level of source of pollution in urban environments: by analyzing honey.
Emerging Tech

Spacewalk a success as astronauts upgrade batteries on the ISS

The International Space Station was treated to some new batteries on Friday, thanks to two NASA astronauts who took a spacewalk for nearly seven hours in order to complete the upgrades.
Emerging Tech

Asteroid Ryugu is porous, shaped like a spinning top, and is formed of rubble

The Japanese Space Agency has been exploring a distant asteroid named Ryugu with its probe, Hayabusa 2. Now the first results from study of the asteroid are in, with three new papers published.
Emerging Tech

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a super-speedy pulsar

A super-speedy pulsar has been spotted dashing across the sky, discovered using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Very Large Array. The pulsar is traveling at a breathtaking 2.5 million miles an hour.
Emerging Tech

Chilean telescope uncovers one of the oldest star clusters in the galaxy

An ultra-high definition image captured by the Gemini South telescope in Chile has uncovered one of the oldest star clusters in the Milky Way. The cluster, called HP 1, could give clues to how our galaxy was formed billions of years ago.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers discover giant chimneys spewing energy from the center of the galaxy

Astronomers have discovered two exhaust channels which are funneling matter and energy away from the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy and out towards the edges of the galaxy, dubbed galactic center chimneys.
Emerging Tech

A milestone in the history of particle physics: Why does matter exist?

If matter and antimatter were both produced in equal amounts by the Big Bang, why is there so much matter around us and so little antimatter? A new experiment from CERN may hold the answer to this decades-long puzzle.