Kudzu and the Galaxy Note 7 Problem

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Kudzu is a vine from Asia. It is spreading across the United States faster than herbicides can keep up. It is also an analogy. In 2013,  Berkley Lab thought that lithium-ion batteries could short-circuit when cycled too quickly. They used a non-destructive viewing method called ‘hard x-rays’.

kudzu

Neuron: Lady of Hats: Public Domain

The microscopic fibers spreading from the lithium electrode across the electrolyte reminded them of the alien plant. They believed a battery could overheat and catch fire once the ‘kudzu’ reached the other electrode. Later, they called the tendrils dendrites, after the branched connections of neurons.

Lithium Kudzu in Real Life

Prof Alexej Jerschow of New York University decided to take the dendrite theory further last month. He used three-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging to peer inside a lithium-ion battery. He saw what could almost be a liquid android from Judgment Day but of course it was not.

He imagined he was looking at Berkley Lab dendrites developing before his eyes. In reality, he was observing the distortion of the electrolytes as the dendrites shoved them aside.

“The method examines the space and materials around dendrites, rather than the dendrites themselves,” study author Andrew Ilott explains. “As a result, the method is more universal. Moreover, we can examine structures formed by other metals, such as for example sodium or magnesium. Materials that are currently possible alternatives to lithium.”

What This May Mean for Batteries

We appear to be a little closer to understanding what happened to a few Galaxy Note 7 phones. If the Berkley Lab was correct back in December 2013 the root cause may turn out to be rogue-cycling rates.

Live Science thinks there may be potential to trigger alarms inside batteries before the situation reaches danger point. We shall watch this kudzu story with interest.

Related

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About Author

Richard

I tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will not deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time. My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast. I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned. Richard Farrell

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