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The lowdown on batteries: Lithium sulphur dioxide

Posted: 18 Aug 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:battery  lithium sulphur dioxide  AAA  Teflon  acetonitrile 

Several months ago, Max Maxfield roped me into his ongoing robot project. I must say that Max is one busy techno-geek—he has got more things going on at once than you can shake a stick at. (I bet he's probably done that stick-shaking thing somewhere along the line, as well.)

Be that as it may, this led to my writing this series of articles on the various battery technologies available to us. Along the way, in addition to the nitty-gritty technology details, I'm including tips and tricks with regard to selecting the most appropriate battery technology for your application, along with tidbits of trivia and nuggets of knowledge, as Max would say. In this article, we consider lithium sulphur dioxide (LiSO2) batteries, but first...

Tip No. 9: What size are you?
When designing a product, from time to time we all struggle with the question: "What will fit inside?" Who gets to decide how a number is assigned to a given shape/size and what it is called? Here are two of the organisations I use:
 • Internationally, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) defines standards for many electrical/electronic devices, including batteries. When it recognises a given primary battery, the battery is given a 60086 number.
 • In the USA, a committee of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) created the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) C18 series, which defines battery sizes and characteristics.

Just in case you were wondering, the IEC and ANSI standards do not always agree, but they are mostly the same, and things have been improving over time. Everything we need to know about the characteristics of batteries for fitting and interchangeability can be purchased at the above websites.

I can't include everything here, since the list is so large, but for an example of what can be found, consider the ubiquitous AAA battery, with a diameter of 10.5 mm (0.41 inch) and a length of 44.5 mm (1.75 inch).

The LiSO2 battery
Constructed with sulphur dioxide on carbon bonded with Teflon, this battery technology is known for its wide operating temperature range, flat voltage-discharge curve, and high energy density. However, these benefits come with disadvantages. Because the SO2 is at high pressure, which requires a safety vent, there is an explosion hazard, and this is a high-cost battery. In addition, the forms of this battery that contain acetonitrile can produce small amounts of very poisonous hydrogen cyanide when subjected to extreme temperatures.

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