There's a very high chance you encounter and use devices powered by lithium-ion batteries every day.
These batteries power laptops, cell phones, and even vehicles. They're lightweight, rechargeable, and have a high energy density. These batteries have lithium ions that move from a negative electrode to a positive electrode and then back again when they're discharging and charging.
Lithium is one of the lightest elements and it has among the most significant electrochemical potentials, which is why it's such a good battery material. Basically, this means lithium can produce a lot of power in a small volume.
Other things using lithium-ion batteries include toys, medical devices, tools, e-bikes, and medical devices.
While these batteries have many benefits, they also have some risks and things to be aware of, including if you have children, since this type of battery is in so many of the items they probably come in contact with.
Are Lithium-Ion Batteries Dangerous?
Lithium-ion batteries aren't necessarily inherently dangerous, but at the same time, there are some risks associated with their use.
The risks are higher if there are design defects or the battery is made from low-quality materials. Other factors increasing their risks include if they aren't assembled correctly or they're damaged. Using or recharging them improperly can make them more dangerous to use too.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 2018, there were more than 25,000 overheating or fire incidents reported involving 400 types of lithium-ion-powered products. These were over five years.
According to the FAA, lithium batteries can catch fire if the battery terminals short-circuit if they're damaged.
If you fly with anything that has this type of battery in your checked bags, you have to turn the devices off completely. You can't check uninstalled lithium-ion batteries, electronic cigarettes, or vaping devices. You have to bring them in your carry-on bags.
In 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization banned shipping these batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft.
Do These Batteries Explode in the Heat?
Temperature can play a role in the performance of a battery. For example, when it's cold, it may cause the capacity of a battery to go down a bit, so the device might operate more slowly. Hot temperatures can degrade the battery electrodes more quickly. This can limit the ability of a battery to store energy.
If you have items with lithium-ion batteries, the best temperature to keep them at is anywhere from 50 to 85 degrees. However, in standard temperatures that you encounter in your daily life, a battery shouldn't explode. If it does, it's due to a short-circuit inside of it.
While technically, the heat shouldn't cause this type of battery to explode, it's still best to avoid having anything with one get too hot.
Watch for Red Flags of Malfunctioning
Most of the safety risks with these batteries are because of a manufacturer's defect. Manufacturers are always looking for the cheapest way to make their products, which can mean shortcuts affecting safety.
Even when you know you're handling your device and battery properly, watch for things like unusual smells or abnormal device behavior.
Things That Can Damage a Battery
Some of the things that can lead to damage that creates a potential battery safety risk include:
- Any physical impact can cause damage, such as crushing or dropping the battery or the device holding it.
- Temperatures that are beyond what's expected in day-to-day life. For example, if you were to expose your battery to an open flame or a temperature of more than 130 degrees, then it becomes a safety hazard.
- If you charge a device with this type of battery in any way other than how the manufacturer instructs, it can make it a risk. For example, you might read that you should avoid overcharging. Ultra-fast chargers don't cycle power like the manufacturer's original charger might, which can be risky to use.
- When you buy a device, a charge, or any associated equipment, ensure they are rated for their intended uses.
- Follow the manufacturer's instructions for using, storing, charging, and maintaining the device.
- If you're replacing a charger or a battery for a device, make sure it's approved for that use.
- Store your devices and batteries in places that are cool and dry.
- Inspect batteries and devices for any signs of damage.
If you have a damaged battery, contact your local battery recycling center to see how you can safely dispose of it.