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October 24, 2016

Halt and Don’t Catch Fire: Reducing the Risks Posed by Lithium-Ion Batteries - Part 2

by: T. David Hoyle

Unless you’re recreating a scene from Mission Impossible, you don’t typically expect your smartphone, laptop or e-cigarette to self-destruct. These and other devices are, however, often kept running by lithium-ion battery packs, which have the potential to explode or catch fire without warning. The potential hazard prompted the Transportation Department to ban Samsung’s Galaxy Note7 from all U.S. flights on the heels of a recall that cited 92 reports of overheating, 26 burns and 55 reports of property damage. The ban on the “forbidden hazardous” smartphone went into effect October 15. Samsung voluntarily recalled the phones in September and later expanded the recall on October. 13.  

Since few of us long to return to the days of dial-up internet and message boards, here are some precautions adapted from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to take with lithium-ion powered personal devices:

  • Consumers should purchase and use only manufacturer or carrier recommended products and accessories. Counterfeit batteries and charges are commonly sold by second-hand dealers and on websites. The best way to verify approved products and compatibility is to contact the manufacturer of the battery or charger.
  • Keep the battery out of contact with metal objects, such as coins, keys or jewelry.
  • Avoid crushing or puncturing the battery. Applying intense pressure can often cause internal short-circuiting and overheating.
  • Refrain from placing your phone or battery near cooking surfaces, irons, radiators and other sources of hot temperatures.
  • Avoid getting your phone or battery wet. While the device may appear to function normally once dry, water damage and corrosion could slowly affect its circuitry, posing a risk.
  • If mailing lithium-ion batteries, include a warning label on the outside of the package stating LI-ON battery or batteries inside. U.S. mail often travels on planes, but these batteries are forbidden by the NTSB to travel by boat or plane.  

However, these recommendations from the CPSC can’t prevent a disaster as these batteries have proved to be unpredictable in many situations. We continue to look to the lithium-ion battery manufacturers to develop a safer alternative that can be used to power all our electronic devices.