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Why do lithium ion batteries explode?

| Aug 29, 2019 | Product Liability

While the chance that the lithium-ion battery in your mobile device will explode is relatively low, when these incidents occur they carry a serious risk of fire damage and injury, which is sometimes severe. Additionally, the problem has persisted despite manufacturer attempts at preventing batteries from overheating and potentially catching fire. Consumer Reports offers more information on exploding batteries and how the problem is currently being addressed. 

These batteries are used in a wide range of products. Along with smartphones, they can also be found in electric cars, cameras, laptops, and backup power equipment used during outages. Their construction is often a factor in explosion incidents, as the cathode and anode responsible for generating power must be kept separated within the battery. In some products, the polyethylene wall intended on preventing contact between these two volatile components is extremely thin. When this wall breaks down, the battery gets hotter and hotter, until it eventually ignites. 

In many cases, design flaws are blamed for fires that result from overheating batteries. This was the case with Samsung Galaxy Note7, which were recalled after their lithium-ion batteries blew up on several occasions. Some industry insiders call for improved construction of batteries, as well as the use of higher quality materials. For example, constructing the wall between the cathode and anode to have a higher melting point will lead to fewer breaches, even if the battery does overheat. 

Other manufacturers propose alternative configurations, such as the lithium-air batteries. While these batteries would have a lower fire risk, while also generating more energy. there is the problem of allowing for the flow of oxygen to the cathode while also preventing damage from moisture and other elements. Lithium-sulfur has also been proposed, but these batteries would need to be recharged on a more frequent basis than lithium-ion batteries currently do.