When Sony introduced the first lithium battery in 1991, they knew of the potential safety risks. A recall of the previously released rechargeable metallic lithium battery was a bleak reminder of the discipline one must exercise when dealing with this high energy-dense battery system.
Pioneering work for the lithium battery began in 1912, but is was not until the early 1970's when the first non-rechargeable lithium batteries became commercially available. Attempts to develop rechargeable lithium batteries followed in the eighties. These early models were based on metallic lithium and offered very high energy density. However, inherent instabilities of lithium metal, especially during charging, put a damper on the development. The cell had the potential of a thermal run-away. The temperature would quickly rise to the melting point of the metallic lithium and cause a violent reaction.
A large quantity of rechargeable lithium batteries had to be recalled in 1991 after the pack in a cellular phone released hot gases and inflicted burns to a man's face. Because of the inherent instability of lithium metal, research shifted to a non-metallic lithium battery using lithium ions.