Lithium batteries are everywhere these days: in tablets, cameras, mobile phones, hybrid cars, and more. As pervasive as they are in everyday life, few people realize that the inner workings of a lithium battery are innately dangerous. Thin and commonly dropped while holding a considerable amount of power, lithium batteries have been making the headlines with Samsung’s recalls, mid-flight headphones explosions, and exploding e-cigarettes.
A History of the Problem
Since the late 1990s and continuing into the 2000s, warnings about lithium batteries have been garnering attention after a series of safety warnings and recalls from many of the top consumer electronics companies such as Dell, Sony, and Samsung involving mobile phones, notebook computers, and tablets. In the 2010s, newer consumer products such as e-cigarettes and e-bikes have experienced fires due to their lithium batteries overheating. In one highly publicized case, a teen in Nevada was injured when his e-cigarette exploded while he was using it.
How Lithium Batteries Work
The main components of a lithium battery are the anode and the cathode. These two electrodes are separated by a thin separator that, if damaged, could quickly heat up the battery. The battery is also filled with an electrolyte solution that passes the charges between the electrodes. Because the electrolyte is highly flammable and combustible, a lithium battery fire could burn as high as 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, due to thinner, lighter, and cheaper device designs with a higher charge capacity, lithium battery technology has become much more volatile than before.
How to Minimize the Risk
While the risk of a lithium battery actually exploding is relatively rare, its effects can be devastating. Here are several safety measures you can do to minimize the risks. One of the most effective preventative measures is to not store your device in a hot environment. This includes under a blanket, in a hot car, or on a hot surface. You can also avoid overcharging your batteries by using the charger that came with your device. In addition, doing a visual check of your battery once in a while can help prevent accidents, especially if you knew you dropped your phone recently. Damaged batteries can appear visually swollen. Often times, lithium battery malfunctions are due to manufacturing issues. Consumers should keep an eye out on any product recalls issued by their device manufacturer.
While lithium batteries rarely explode, it is still important to keep an eye on the device and any safety warnings by the manufacturer. This is especially important if you are using an old phone that had been dropped or if you have replaced the battery or charger from the original.