As many of you know, I have some weaknesses: Samsung phones, Apple Computers, Tesla Cars and Cheetos. Some would call that a lethal combination.
I might have to agree. One of them corrodes your arteries. Two ransack your bank account. And one of them may make you…how to put it delicately…spontaneously combust!
Recent issues with lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries have sent the tech world scurrying for answers—and an occasional fire extinguisher. Most notably, it’s been the meltdown (quite literally) of the Samsung flagship phone, the Galaxy Note 7.
I was one of the giddy customers longing for a hot new upgrade. The allure fizzled pretty fast. My trusty Note 5 will have to carry the load for a while longer. But some believe the Note 8 and any future Galaxy Note progeny may never make it out of R&D and into our hands. All because of bad batteries.
Batteries and their safety are clearly big business. Billions! Maybe the “batteries not included” folks had it right all along.
With the proliferation of tech, battery factories are growing at a blistering pace. Tesla’s Gigafactories, for instance, are a modern wonder. Dubbed Gigafactory 1 in America and Gigafactory 2 in Europe, when completed they will produce mind-boggling stockpiles of lithium-ion batteries. These energy-infused cells will harvest electricity for the expanding fleet of Tesla thrill rides, the home powering Powerwall and the business powering Powerpacks.
An exploding phone was one thing. But your car? House? Office? Okay, maybe your office. (You know you were thinking it.)
In all seriousness, how safe is our Li-ion future?
Rupert Goodwins writes for ZDNet. He reminds us that we have met the enemy and he is us. Our voracious appetite for brighter, faster and slimmer phones has driven the boundaries of physics to its breaking point. Li-ion is great for taking on power quickly and dosing it out efficiently. But when we try to squeeze so much energy into and out of such high-tech batteries, there’s no room for error.
We might not realize just how much juice is lurking in those tiny batteries.
Goodwins brings it home in an unforgettable way. He crunched the numbers, and a fully charged phone battery stores the equivalent heat of several hundred Bunsen burners. And if that power is released in one fireball of fury? Ouch!
Josh Kirschner, writing for Techlicous in 2013, talked about the dangers of exploding laptop batteries. He spectacularly warned that failing Li-ion batteries can send 1,000-degree metal shards flying through a room. I prefer to keep my pyrotechnics limited to the 4th and New Year. You too, I bet.
Are there safer alternatives? Some are being explored, but as with all tech research, it takes lots of time and money. Batteries will be safer, more efficient and less polluting as time goes on, but we’ll be handling Li-ion for quite some time.
What should we do?
You might want to be a late adopter. Instead of being the first one in line for a new phone, let others be the beta testing dare-devils.
Treat batteries or devices with batteries more gently that you might think. Bent, damaged or shorted batteries can become unstable and dangerous.
If your battery is replaceable, always go with the recommendation of the manufacturer. Don’t try to save a few bucks by buying a knock-off. The same goes for charging adapters, cables and the like. Always use products that have been tested and approved by the manufacturer.
I recently did some research on a Mac charger replacement. A YouTuber cracked open the look-a-like charger, and the innards were a hot mess. It looked like something that you’d put together in a basement with leftover parts from your 1980s jam box. Don’t skimp when it comes to safety.
Keep your device out of extreme heat. Don’t leave it in a hot car, near the fire or on any other hot surface. This could elevate the risk of battery failure.
Finally, if you notice any overheating or bulging in your device’s battery, power it off completely. Don’t charge it. Find an expert and seek a safe solution.
Our world runs on electricity. Whether it’s coming directly out of a wire or is stored in a battery, there’s no getting around it if you want to remain connected to the world. To be sure, there have been some notable issues in the recent past, but by and in large batteries are safe and getting safer all the time. Follow a few wise tips, and you’ll be juiced up and ready to go. Now, about those Cheetos…
Richard Singleton, MACE, MAMFC, LPC, is the executive director at STARRY in Round Rock.