Lithium ion Batteries Explode?

"A cellphone exploded in his living room last year, causing up to $100,000 in damages. Ortega and his family had to live in a trailer for a few months while their house in California was fixed" as reported in the Chicago Tribune back in 2006.  Without question the impact that the fire had on this family is devastating but what is alarming about that fire is that through the fire and insurance investigation the cause was found to be due to a cell phone's lithium-ion battery failure and subsequent spontaneous combustion. What? How is that possible?

If you have a PDA, MP3, MP4, Laptop, Cell Phone, Smartphone, DVD player, or other electronic device then more likely then not the battery within your device is a high capacity smart battery pack (the chemical base being lithium ion). What is a high capacity smart battery pack? A high capacity smart battery pack is a complex battery system designed to power high tech consumer electronic products.

What differentiates smart batteries from standard batteries is the specialized hardware that provides calculated on demand current as well as predicted information.

This specialized hardware includes:

  • the connector
  • the fuse
  • the charge and discharge FETs
  • the cell pack
  • the sense resistor (RSENSE)
  • the primary and secondary protection ICs
  • the fuel-gauge IC
  • the thermistor
  • the pc board
  • the EEPROM

Each of these components working in concert allows electrical current to be created, controlled, and transferred to your individual electronic device on demand. Your battery in effect was purposely designed to be an energy dense power pack, which used within its properly designed purpose you can feel comfortable that your battery will not explode.

How can I say that you will “feel comfortable” because statistically your battery will not explode or even become defective! The report about the fire at the Ortega’s family house is one of 339 battery-related overheating incidents tracked by the Consumer Product Safety Commission since 2003. 339 overheating cases sounds like a lot but when compared to the well over 100,000,000 battery related devices that have been bought by consumer since 2003 it represents a very small percentage (.000003) of all battery related devices on the market.

However when smart batteries do explode, bubble, or warp the cause is due to an internal cell short that may cause the battery to overheat and explode, posing a potential hazard to consumers.

To isolate the ultimate cause of the short circuit a study of every aspect of the smart battery development and customer use must be considered including:

  • the specialized each of the hardware components
  • the cell design
  • the manufacturing processes
  • battery operation in extreme conditions
  • intentional battery abuse
  • unintentional abuse through the use of the battery in any device, product, and or in any conceivable manner other than what the battery was specifically designed to be used for and in

So yes it is possible to have high capacity smart battery pack explode and cause unexpected damage but as we have seen it is very unlikely considering the sheer quantity of lithium ion based batteries on the market.

Until next time, Dan Hagopian –
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