Industry Reaction to Lithium-Ion Battery Concerns Continues

November 09, 2006 by Jeff Shepard

The recalls of lithium-ion batteries used in the notebook/laptop computers of numerous manufacturers the last few months – what some observers have labeled the "Sony battery disaster" – are continuing to spur the safety standardization process worldwide. Industry groups in America and Japan have begun the process of setting new procedures and standards to prevent the recurrence of further recalls of Li-ion batteries. Although the improvement efforts have been undertaken largely independently thus far, there is widespread agreement within the industry that the "flammable battery" problem stems from the contamination of Li-ion cells by metal particles during the manufacturing process.

In Japan, where an estimated 70% of the world's batteries are manufactured, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) formed a working group that was given the task of presenting new testing standards by March of 2007. These new standards are expected to establish a testing process that all Li-ion batteries will have to pass before being cleared for the notebook market. It remains to be seen whether the Japanese solution (where the standardization efforts are more centralized and the government is directing the battery-makers to revise safety standards) will clash with the more voluntary American industry initiatives.

In the United States, notebook manufacturers are relying primarily on their own company initiatives to deal with the fire-safety issue. Nonetheless, notebook makers have submitted proposals to revise the specs of the IEEE battery standard. Furthermore, a working group within the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) is attempting to place company-specific requirements into a suggested industry battery standard, and Underwriters Laboratories held a meeting earlier this month to discuss plans to similarly revise its own Li-ion battery standard.

In terms of the IEEE standards, the IEEE announced recently that it had begun the revision of the laptop battery standard, IEEE 1625™ – "IEEE Standard for Rechargeable Batteries for Portable Computing" – which was approved in 2004. This update targets an improvement in the overall performance of laptop battery systems and seeks to address recent calls to make these systems more reliable and robust. The revised standard, a part of the IEEE Livium™ family of battery standards, will be created within the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) Corporate Program. The project is expected to be completed within 18 months. The IEEE 1625 working group is considering updates to the existing IEEE 1625 laptop battery specification that will help establish compliance to the standard.

"The 1625 update will be a global effort," stated Edward Rashba, Manager, New Technical Programs at the IEEE-SA. "The leading laptop OEMs and battery manufacturers such as Apple, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Lenovo, Panasonic, Sanyo, and Sony have indicated strong interest to participate." The group will meet bi-monthly in the U.S. and Asia to complete the work. The first working group meeting is scheduled for November 15 & 16 at the Intel campus in Santa Clara, California. Another meeting is planned for January 16–18, 2007, in Japan.