Okay, maybe not all smartphones are ticking time bombs. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that your smartphone isn’t an actual ticking time bomb.
We are fully aware that this piece of information might actually frighten you but the truth is that if you have a smartphone or a laptop, it doesn’t matter where you store them (in your purse or your back pocket), you have a device that can, not probably but still, explode.
Essentially any device (a consumer electronic device if you will) that uses a rechargeable battery is potentially a dangerous device.
Electronic gadgets that use modern lithium-ion based batteries are potentially very harmful for you and your children.
So the next time you get rid of your annoying 6-year-old by handing him/her your new iPad, think about the fact that you might have handed your child a device that can, potentially, detonate.
But before you throw out all your smartphones and laptops, you should know that the chances of your devices actually blowing up are minimal at the very least.
Ken Boyce, who is a battery expert and is currently the principal engineer director at UL, told Gizmodo in an interview that the chance of your battery powered device exploding is something like 1 in 10 million.
As you can probably guess from the figure, your battery-powered device won’t be bursting into flames anytime soon provided it’s not named “Samsung Galaxy Note 7.”
Boyce was of the opinion that there were currently billions of lithium batteries out there in the market.
But those batteries aren’t exactly time bombs because they are a result of two decades of improvements by scientists and engineers.
Not only that, the manufacturing process of these batteries has been assisted by safety science experts just like those at UL. That was made Lithium based batteries, which are ubiquitous now, much safer.
However, the fact is that the integral structure and nature of lithium ion batteries means that there is always a danger of explosion near them.
It might be hard to believe right now but consumers didn’t know about this “exploding battery” phenomenon before 1995.
Some of you might remember that Apple released its Powerbook 5300 that year and the company was one of the first early adopters of lithium based batteries.
Unfortunately, many of those Powerbook 5300 machines caught fire while in use which lead Apple to order a general recall for their “faulty” product.
Needless to say,the debacle cost Apple millions of dollars and the naysayers of Lithium batteries got their reason for calling a ban on the batteries before any other apocalyptic-level damage was done.
In 2016, the situation is quite different now. Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds and basically the safety measures have improved to the point that Apple’s battery recall in 2007 (which was made because some batteries started to swell and caught fire) didn’t cause as much a fuss as it should have.
But, coincidentally, all of this brings us back to the question of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 catastrophe.
It is quite interesting to note that after many (probably a bit too many) reports of the device exploding and causing damage to its nearby area, Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has now been handed down the punishment of a global recall.
You might already know that Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has been banned by several airlines both inside and outside the United States of America.
In fact, US officials have instructed citizens to turn off their Samsung smartphone device and stop using it for the rest of their lives.
Of course, Samsung Galaxy Note 7 isn’t the first phone that has died in its infancy. But the exploding issue does point towards the coming together of new technology and inherent failings of modern battery technology to improve the chances of Samsung’s current destructive explosions.
We also know that the cause of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 explosions isn’t something we haven’t witnessed before.
Lithium based batteries are extremely vulnerable to heat and there is a good reason for it. Heat fundamentally degenerates the potential of the battery to hold a charge in it.
That is also the reason why your smartphone has a shorter battery life in summers than in winters and gives you fewer hours when you talk/play/work on your smartphone for an extended period of time without a break.
And because of this, there are times when the battery gets overheated. When that happens, batteries usually go boom. The industry calls it “thermal runaway.”
Professor Yan Shao-Horn, who is the W.M Keck professor of Energy at MIT university, said in an interview with Gizmodo that thermal runaway was basically a technical term in reference “explosion.”
She further explained that the battery explosions we keep hearing about in the news are not actually explosions but are just a type of fire.
In other words, the thermal runaway phenomenon is actually a chemical reaction and it happens when heat grows a bit too much in a certain area and causes the close by chemicals to get heated up rapidly.
When this happens in a lithium-based battery, the chances of an explosion increase several folds because of the battery’s high flammability.
In short, Lithium based batteries are basically a mixture of very burnable chemicals that are smooshed together and then are exposed to an electrical charge with the help of electrodes.
A modern lithium battery has two major electrodes. One is called the anode and the other is called the cathode.
And without forcing you to recall your chemistry 101 lessons, anode and cathode are basically the plus and minus signs on your regular battery.
A battery functions only when energy goes through the anode and comes out through the cathode. The two electrodes are usually separated from each other by an organic material that is capable of holding lithium salts.
Lithium salts are super helpful when the aim is to transfer and contain energy as efficiently as possible.
Now, during a “Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Explodes” event, the anode and cathode of the battery somehow make contact with each other. This results in an explosion or as your chemistry teacher would say “thermal runaway.”
As you can imagine, that doesn’t happen too frequently (again, assuming you don’t have a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 in your hand) but if you have the whole setup in a rickety old box then that can lead to the setup getting punctured.
The anode and the cathode touch each other and the battery goes kaboom. Now, modern batteries aren’t stored in some flimsy bags but that doesn’t mean that they are totally invulnerable to the possibility of contact between the two electrodes.
Check out the video below,
You should be able to see a lithium ion battery. This is the same type of battery that is used not only in today’s devices such as e-cigarettes but also in bigger, much more complex machines such as a Tesla Model S electric car.
As the video shows, the moment the nail pokes a hole in the battery, the anode and cathode make contact and an explosion takes place.
To their credit, the engineers who make these batteries do try to lessen the chance of an explosion because of the hole by improving the battery construction process.
That is also the reason why you never think about your Tesla Model S electric car exploding while driving or after a crash.
It shouldn’t be too hard for you to imagine something like this happening inside the battery of Samsung Galaxy Note 7.
As Samsung has stated since the recall order, the explosions took place because of a failure in the production of some batteries that were fitted into Samsung Galaxy Note 7.
Basically, a huge amount of pressure had built up inside the Note 7’s battery because of the manufacturing fault and because of that pressure the chances of an anode coming into direct contact with a cathode increased exponentially.
Shao-Horn says that this theory could explain why Samsung Galaxy Note 7 exploded but she points out that there could be another reason for the device’s explosive batteries.
That reason is overcharging.
When you overcharge a battery, the anode part of the battery gets so much charge that it beings to produce oxygen inside the battery.
That destroys the delicate balance of the chemical components inside the battery. As a result, the otherwise airtight battery’s structure gets compromised and hence an explosion occurs.
Shoan-Horn told Gizmodo that these processes could happen even in a perfect battery. Her statement was a clear indication to the phenomenon of overcharging and anode-cathode contact.
Needless to say, defects that occur because of a faulty manufacturing process only make these two processes much worse, says Shoan-Horn.
The bad news is that there are more things that you need to watch out for the next time your put your smartphone device on charging.
If you have a worn out USB cable then you’re at risk of an exploding smartphone device.
You must understand that the charging process of your smartphone or laptop is a very fragile one. That makes the batteries we use every day, potentially, hazardous.
Have you ever thought about why the FAA always tells you to put all your lithium batteries in the cabin?
Well, they do it because in the case of a fire, the onboard crew can take care of the situation quickly and without any hindrance.
This also explains why Apple was able to get away with its swollen laptop battery problem by just replacing the batteries in the background while Samsung is being forced to recall and replace defective Samsung Galaxy Note 7 devices.
And now, you also know the reason why organizations such as UL (Underwriters Laboratories) exist.
Engineers such as Ken Boyce, work hard every day in order to come up with the safety science and then they publish and advertise their findings to vendors.
In other words, if you pay proper attention to the guidelines set out by UL then you, probably, won’t have to see your hoverboard get destroyed in front of your eyes (or below your feet).
With that said, don’t forget the fact that every lithium battery is inherently flammable in nature so there is always chance of an explosion.
So to make sure that you are the last person on earth who experiences an exploding battery do the following to protect your battery/batteries,
- Don’t overcharge your batteries
- Try to keep them away from heat
- Don’t use the wrong cable for charging
- Don’t use the wrong power brick to charge your device
Keeping your batteries safe will also save you some money because you won’t get any exploding devices.
Samsung learned it the hard way and now the company has lost a whopping $26 billion of market value in a couple of days.
According to the financial data provider Factset the company has lost $26 billion after it recalled its Note 7 devices.
Return your Samsung Galaxy Note 7 right now. Otherwise, you might end up with an exploding smartphone while you’re talking on it.