Battery Recall – Are Lithium Batteries Safe?

With the battery recalls that have recently occurred with both Dell and Apple many people have been writing about battery safety issues. Since BatteryShip is in the business of selling rechargeable batteries we would like to say emphatically that lithium ion batteries are perfectly safe. In fact with the lithium ion batteries we have been selling we have found that less than 1% of the batteries we have are ever defective. Furthermore we have never had a case where one of the batteries we have sold has caught fire. In addition to that in my last 10 years in the industry and having sold millions of these battery technologies I can say that without question these batteries are safe.

Personally I believe that many of the recalled batteries more than likely did not even need to be returned. But I do understand from a precautionary stand it is far less costly to recall a battery then go through any legal proceedings that may arise from a defective battery that explodes.

During the latest round of recalls media outlets have been making statements that lithium ion battery packs contain cells of rolled up metal strips. This is true. They continue to report that during the manufacturing process at a Sony factory in Japan, crimping the rolls [of electrolytes] left tiny shards of metal loose in the cells, and some of those shards caused batteries to short-circuit and overheat, according to Sony. This may be true. If it is true then the cause is not in lithium technology but a mistake made during the manufacturing process of the batteries at Sony’s plant.

Regardless of the mistakes made in Sony’s manufacturing process a small percentage of batteries can and do fail. Battery failures occur for a number of reasons including:

• Batteries can have faulty cell design
• Batteries can be manufactured under uncontrolled processes
• Batteries can be operated in uncontrolled conditions
• Batteries can be abused
• Batteries can degrade and lose power (this is actually not a defect but the natural lifecycle of a battery during normal usage)

Battery Cell Design Faults – include weak mechanical design, inadequate pressure seals and vents, the specification of poor quality materials and improperly specified tolerances can be responsible for many potential failures.

Uncontrolled Manufacturing Processes include – badly run production facilities which lead to cell short circuits, leaks, unreliable connections, sealing quality, mechanical weakness, and contamination. An example of a manufacturing process out of control is variable coating thicknesses of the active chemicals on the electrodes would affect cell capacity, impedance and self discharge.

Uncontrolled Operating Conditions – perfectly good batteries fail when you use operate them in conditions where they shouldn’t be like: using the battery in a device that it was not specifically designed for, charging the battery with an incorrect adapter/charger, extreme environmental conditions (most handheld consumer batteries operate best when ambient temperatures are between 32°F-95°F), and physical damage.

Abuse – Abuse means deliberate physical abuse by the end user as well as accidental abuse which may be unavoidable. This may include dropping, crushing, penetrating, impacts, immersion in fluids, freezing or contact with fire.

Battery Degradation and Power Loss – A battery over time degrades and eventually stops working, this is no surprise, but why this occurs is really a fascinating yet technical process. These reasons are complex issues that are way beyond user control and are wholly contained within your battery and within your device! These reasons for battery degradation and power loss over time is due to declining capacity, increasing internal resistance, elevated self-discharge, and premature voltage cut-off on discharge.

Until next time Dan Hagopian,
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