There are other cylindrical Li-ion formats with dimensions of 20700, 21700 and 22700. Meanwhile, Tesla, Panasonic and Samsung have decided on the 21700 for easy of manufacturing, optimal capacity and other benefits. While the 18650 has a volume of approximately 16cm3 (16ml) with a capacity of around 3000mAh, the 21700 cell has approximately 24cm3 (24ml) with a said capacity of up to 6000mAh, essentially doubling the capacity with a 50% increase in volume. Tesla Motor refers to their company’s new 21700 as the “highest energy density cell that is also the cheapest.” (The 2170 nomenclature Tesla advocates is not totally correct; the last zero of the 21700 model describes a cylindrical cell harmonizing with the IEC standard.)
The larger 26650 cell with a diameter of 26mm does not enjoy the same popularity as the 18650. The 26650 is commonly used in load-leveling systems. A thicker cell is said to be harder to build than a thinner one. Making the cell longer is preferred. There is also a 26700 made by E-One Moli Energy.
Some lead acid systems also borrow the cylindrical design. Known as the Hawker Cyclone, this cell offers improved cell stability, higher discharge currents and better temperature stability compared to the conventional prismatic design. The Hawker Cyclone has its own format.
Even though the cylindrical cell does not fully utilize the space by creating air cavities on side-by-side placement, the 18650 has a higher energy density than a prismatic/pouch Li-ion cell. The 3Ah 18650 delivers 248Ah/kg, whereas a modern pouch cell has about 140Ah/kg. The higher energy density of the cylindrical cell compensates for its less ideal stacking abilities and the empty space can always be used for cooling to improve thermal management.
Cell disintegration cannot always be prevented but propagation can. Cylindrical cells are often spaced apart to stop propagation should one cell take off. Spacing also helps in the thermal management. In addition, a cylindrical design does not change size. In comparison, a 5mm prismatic cell can expand to 8mm with use and allowances must be made.