Chinese Battery Maker Goes to Exotic Extremes to Prove the Safety of its Packs
Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner was grounded last week after an All Nippon Airways plane experienced “thermal runaway” in its lithium ion battery pack (meaning that a battery overheated and possibly caught on fire.) Could this issue have been avoided with more comprehensive testing procedures? Perhaps Boeing should have tried shooting the batteries with a pistol to see if they ignited?
That was one test Chinese battery maker Sinopoly Battery Ltd. conducted to prove that its battery was, well, I’m not sure what it proved, other than that the battery can withstand being shot.
China is already the world’s largest producer of lithium-ion batteries for consumer devices such as mobile phones. Since the government there announced ambitious electric vehicle production and sales goals, China has also become a popular place for foreign companies to produce lithium-ion batteries for vehicles. At the same time, Chinese companies are also jumping on what they view as a huge business opportunity. Unfortunately, as often happens in China, some seem to be bypassing some important stepping stones to making world-class products.
Sinopoly, which is listed in Hong Kong but based in Mainland China, produces lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and storage. According to its website, “Sinopoly is equipped with advanced technology and production technique to provide reliable energy solutions to customers of various demands.” Its annual report says Sinopoly customers include the State Grid Corp, one of China’s two main electricity utilities; FAW Bus, Dongfeng Hangzhou Motor, and China Mobile. Orders are also “on the rise” from Germany, the U.K., and the U.S., among other international customers, says the report. I wonder if one of their requirements was withstanding bullets?
Of course, we can’t know what additional safety tests Sinopoly has conducted on its batteries besides the pistol test. But for electric vehicle batteries, auto manufacturers generally require a range of tests including vibration, drop and shock tests; thermal shock, humidity, and corrosion tests; and long-life durability tests, said Shanghai-based Eric Reyes, regional director of strategic development for testing and quality assurance firm Intertek.
In China, those tests are conducted in Intertek’s specialized laboratories in highly-controlled environments, said Reyes. “If you want to just shoot a battery or set it on fire to see if it explodes, I guess this method is okay,” he told PluginCars. “You’ll know if it pops when there is a loud bang. But if you want to know at a certain point, at a certain temperature or charge cycle, where thermal runaway (or any other incident) occurs, or understand where the weaknesses are in your design, you can really only achieve that in a controlled setting.”
I’m not saying Sinopoly doesn’t conduct any tests in controlled settings. But the fact that it felt comfortable posting a video of such uncontrolled tests—which also incidentally lacked any safety equipment—on its website as proof of its batteries’ quality has to make you wonder about the company’s other quality control measures. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the company is still operating at a loss.
(Head to Sinopoly’s website to find out what happens when you shoot a lithium ion battery pack with a handgun.)
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