The Danger that Lurks Beneath your Pillow: Lithium Batteries

Interesting Engineering

You are probably using one right now, unaware of the danger if something went wrong. Lithium-ion batteries are one of the newest choices of power supply in modern devices because of their compact design, quick recharging cycles, and life longevity. However, these lightweight batteries have another feature you are probably unaware of  – their tendency to explode.

Coming to light in 2016 with the hoverboard exploding crisis, the dangers of these batteries were once again displayed as they spontaneously ignited, sometimes setting fire to entire homes. However, just because your cell phone battery is small, it packs a major punch if it is punctured, overcharged, or used in the wrong device.

The battery used is a common rechargeable battery, however, your laptop and phone use very similar variants with equal or more explosive potential. The reaction is caused when the lithium comes into contact with air causing a violent reaction to occur with the oxygen. Unfortunately, if a lithium fire breaks out the only way to douse the flames is with a flame retardant powder or a proper fire extinguisher. Pouring water on the flames will only make the explosion more violent as the lithium strips the water of the oxygen, once again causing a magnificent explosion.

Of course, most devices have many safety features to prevent the battery from overheating. This includes an automatic shut-off when the battery reaches full charge, so you do not have to worry about leaving your phone charging as well as a robust case to prevent puncture. Most devices will also cut the power when the device overheats, something you may have noticed if you left your phone in the sun. Although there are safety features, we strongly advise you to use the battery for its intended purpose, never try and modify it, and never, ever put a hole in it (because it won't work if you do, and oh yeah, it'll explode). Of course, we also advise you to not sleep with it in your bed, but it is likely that many of you are already reading this from the comfort of your bed right now. However, keep in mind the potential dangers and use batteries as intended. Although they are small, they certainly pack a menacing punch.