I’m by no means a battery expert but having worked with transporting them since they started coming around in the 90ies I’ve learned a few things about them and the prejudices connected with them.
Until something more powerful is invented lithium batteries (LiBa) will become an even larger part of our daily lives. We have them in pretty much all electrical gadgets we use, from phones, automobiles to backup power supplies in electrical grids.
But are lithium batteries as dangerous as the media are misleading you to think? Yes, they most certainly can be and there are two main reasons for that which the media never pick up on when they hastily report of lithium battery involved fires/explosions.
Lithium batteries must be manufactured under strict quality control. They may not be transported via air, road or sea unless they have passed the UN 38.3 tests (UN Manual of Tests and Criteria, Part III, sub-section 38.3). A summary of this test report must be made available to the transporter as of 01 January 2020.
The reason for this new requirement is to prevent counterfeit batteries from being introduced to and endangering the supply chain and us when we travel.
Let’s say it’s time to replace your laptop battery. You go on the manufacturer’s website and find the battery, it costs $ 99, wow! that is expensive so you go on the internet and find an alternative source that will sell you a battery that fits your computer for $65. Honestly, which one are you going to buy?
Let’s say you decide to buy the $65 “real’ish” battery. Then if/when your battery explode possibly injuring you and others or burn down the house, what is blamed? The lithium battery, without follow-up questions.
I’m not saying that this is related but I’d put my money on that the battery was not UN 38.3 tested. But follow-up questions were not asked.
You have just bought a PowerBank. The instructions say that it takes 8-10 hours to fully charge with the manufacturer supplied charger. Wow, 10 hours! my time is important. On the internet again and you find a supercharger that promises to do the job in 3 hours. Perfect, I need that. What will be blamed if/when the battery overheats and explode. The lithium battery! without follow-up questions. Airlines and airport are introducing restrictions on PowerBanks, the Watt-hour (Wh) rating must be visible or be able to be calculated with information on the outside of the PowerBank and in some cases, it may not be bigger than 32,000 mAh.
Anytime you contain energy it can become dangerous if not treated properly, even properly manufactured and tested batteries can become dangerous if you don’t take good care of them. They are high-tech gadgets and sensitive to external forces. Even dropping your mobile phone can cause the battery to malfunction and potentially go into thermal runaway.
This story involved e-cigarette batteries, just go on the internet and search for “e-cigarette explosion” and you have plenty of results, but none will report why, why, why, why, why. I’d put my money on that most e-cigarettes contain non-tested batteries. You also have to package your Portable Electronic Devices (PED) and spare batteries correctly when you travel. Equipment must be pack in such a way to prevent inadvertent activation, and batteries must be protected from short circuit.
I would like the media to do the 5 whys the next time there is an incident involving a lithium battery. Then they would live up to their duty of being a source of useful information for the general public.
- “Counterfeit” – figure out if the batter was manufactured according to standards or was it “counterfeit” if there were statistics that I could find on the over 200 battery involved incidents in air transport a majority would probably be caused by counterfeit batteries.
- “Look in the mirror” What caused the battery to explode? did you use the right charger? is it an original battery? was the battery made for this equipment? was the battery/equipment handled or transported correctly?
So if you have a battery incident please look into the mirror before you jump on the bandwagon and automatically blame the lithium battery….. objects rarely does something on their own.
Batteries can be perfectly safe and support our way of life but please do the homework on how to do it correctly and only buy properly manufactured and tested batteries, it might be a little more expensive (there are good reasons for that) but it is a whole lot less than a new house, car, aircraft or body part.