Published on June 25th, 2016 | by Guest0
Lithium-Ion Battery Explosions… Could Your Electronics Decide to Kill You?
Lithium-ion battery explosions, particularly those involving e-cigarettes, make the headlines almost every other day. But this is a classic example of one of those things that seems much more likely than it actually is, due to the way that the media twists the story.
You may not have heard of lithium-ion batteries, but I bet you use one every single day. We use lithium-ion batteries for portable devices that we’d like to recharge — that includes laptops, tablets, phones, e-cigarettes and hoverboards.
Any of these products can explode — yes, even your laptop. Lithium-ion batteries are useful because they store a lot of energy in a small space, which is also why they have the potential to explode. The two ends of the lithium-ion battery, the anode and the cathode, are kept apart by a separator. If the separator is damaged, then the device will short circuit and things can get real hot, real fast.
If the heat gets high enough, the battery can trigger a thermal runaway: A fancy way of saying that the heat spreads quickly in a chain reaction. This heat can easily cause a fire or, in severe cases, an explosion.
Fortunately, lithium-ion battery explosions are extremely rare
Before you drop your smartphone in the nearest ocean, you should know that exploding batteries are extremely rare. Between 2002-2015, there were hundreds of millions of lithium-ion batteries manufactured and only 43 recalls. The failure rate for the lithium-ion batteries in a Tesla is just 1/10,000 — which means that you’re twice as likely to be killed in a cycling accident as you are to experience an exploding Tesla (cheery thought).
Even e-cigarette explosions, which seem to hit the headlines every day, are about as unlikely as being struck by lightning. There are an estimated 20 million vapers worldwide, yet only 173 e-cigarette explosions have ever been reported. Ignoring the fact that many vapers own multiple devices, and ignoring all the vapers who have quit, that still gives us a failure rate of less than 1/115,000. If you follow proper battery safety steps and buy a quality e-cigarette with a fail-safe, the chance of your lithium-ion battery exploding becomes smaller still.
The media makes lithium-ion batteries look more dangerous than they really are
Because there are literally hundreds of millions of lithium-ion batteries out there, 1/100,000 events start to happen fairly often. These make for great headlines because we all use lithium-ion batteries and it gives us chills to think that our precious gadgets could turn into a fireball at a moment’s notice.
Lithium-ion battery explosions get more media coverage than they really deserve. It’s estimated that smoking kills six million people per year, but we don’t get a headline for each individual tragedy. This is because it’s so common that it’s normal. An e-cigarette explosion, on the other hand, is so rare that it’s shocking. This means it gets covered despite actually being less tragic than the early end of someone’s life (lithium-ion battery explosions are very rarely fatal).
How to prevent your lithium-ion battery from exploding
If you learn just four things from this article, they should be these safety rules:
- Don’t damage your lithium-ion batteries. If your battery gets smashed, burned, frozen, pierced, dented, drowned, or anything else… you should buy a replacement battery.
- Buy from a reputable manufacturer. Ideally, your lithium-ion battery should have protection from overheating and short circuits.
- Use the correct charger and charge your device as instructed by the manufacturer.
- Never carry a lithium-ion battery in your pocket. A decent number of battery explosions have been caused by coins or keys knocking into batteries this way. Instead, always carry your lithium-ion battery in a case specifically designed to carry batteries.
Pascal Culverhouse is the owner of the Electric Tobacconist, an online retailer of e-cigarettes.