Why Lithium Batteries Die Prematurely

Josie Garthwaite goes inside lithium-ion batteries to reveal why they degrade.

Published: 04-Jul-2011

The death of a battery: We’ve all seen it happen. In phones, laptops, cameras and now electric cars, the process is painful and — if you’re lucky — slow. Over the course of years, the lithium-ion battery that once powered your machine for hours (days, even!) will gradually lose its capacity to hold a charge. Eventually you’ll give in, maybe curse Steve Jobs and then buy a new battery, if not a whole new gadget.

But why does this happen? What’s going on in the battery that makes it give up the ghost? The short answer is that damage from extended exposure to high temperatures and a lot of charging and discharging cycles eventually starts to break down the process of the lithium ions traveling back and forth between electrodes.

The longer answer, which will take us through a description of unwanted chemical reactions, corrosion, the threat of high temperatures and other factors affecting performance, begins with an explanation of what happens in a rechargeable lithium-ion battery when everything’s working well.


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