Lithium Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion battery technology is safe, efficient, and reliable. Lithium-ion batteries have been used for many years, and they power everything from our phones and computers to our kitchen appliances and cars. Factories worldwide produce batteries totaling hundreds of gigawatt-hours in total capacity each year, with the entire production expected to exceed one terawatt-hour within the next 10 years. That’s millions upon millions of batteries – almost all of them will provide years of trouble-free operation.

In any significant enough population of electronic products, though, a few will have problems – and when the product in question is a powerful battery, a problem could result in a fire. At least 225 lithium-ion battery incidents have been reported on airliners alone since 1991. While it’s possible that a battery issue can occur through no fault of your own, lithium-ion battery fires can also happen due to user error – mainly when those batteries are bare cells, such as the 18650 batteries commonly used in flashlights and vaping devices.

Do you handle lithium-ion batteries regularly? Of course, you do – because it’s nearly impossible for any modern consumer to avoid them. You owe it to yourself to ensure that you’re using your battery-powered devices in the safest way possible. Follow these 4 battery safety tips to maximize your safety when using lithium-ion batteries.

Don’t Carry Bare Lithium Ion Cells in Your Pocket

As mentioned above, you may handle bare lithium-ion cells daily if you vape or use a powerful flashlight. You can never have enough battery power, so the temptation to carry spare batteries in your pocket may be strong – but don’t do it. The entire metal enclosure of a lithium-ion battery conducts electricity, and a short circuit can occur if any metal object touches the battery's battery's positive terminal while simultaneously touching any other part of the battery.

When you short a lithium-ion battery, the cell releases all of its stored power instantly – and that’s a considerable amount of power. Such a rapid release of energy may cause the battery to overheat, vent hot gas, and catch fire. You do not want that to happen in your pocket. Around the world, dozens of people have had uncontrollable fires start spontaneously in their pants because their batteries touched keys, coins, or other spare batteries. If you must transport bare lithium-ion cells, carry them in a protective case.

Jason Cugle of online vape shop Triple 7 Vaping says, “One of the challenges in my line of work is in stressing that lithium-ion cells and common disposable alkaline batteries are not the same things. Anyone handling bare lithium-ion cells must do so carefully.” 

Don’t Use Off-Brand Charging Equipment

Wall charging adapters for products such as mobile phones, tablets, and laptops take a lot of abuse. You use them every day. They may even travel with you daily to and from work or school. With all of the use it sees, many of your electronic devices will likely outlive their charging equipment – and when the device in question is made by a company such as Apple, you might experience a bit of sticker shock when you buy a replacement. Why would you pay $30 for a USB wall adapter with an Apple logo when you could get a third-party charger from Amazon for $10? While it’s true that you are, to a certain extent paying a premium price to own an accessory with a name-brand logo, another reason for the higher price is the fact that Apple and companies like it pay agencies such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to test and certify their products. On the other hand, off-brand electronics makers may skip those tests and simply put fake certifications on their products instead.

Publications such as Consumer Reports have extensively reported the dangers of using off-brand charging equipment. A charging adapter that doesn’t meet the device’s specifications may cause the battery in the widget to short-circuit or overheat. Spending a few extra dollars for a charger that the device’s manufacturer has confirmed is safe to use is worthwhile. 

Don’t Charge Your Batteries Unattended

Suppose you look online for reports of fires and other incidents when charging lithium-ion batteries. In that case, you’ll see many incidents in which people acted quickly and disconnected their devices from the chargers because they noticed unusual smells. There are several reasons why an electronic device might emit a strange odor during charging, none of which are good. The smell could be from the capacitors in the charging adapter swelling and releasing toxic gas. 

It could be from the battery’s internal components overheating and fusing together. Regardless of the circumstances, quickly disconnecting the device from the charger can prevent an overheating battery from causing a house fire, leading to property damage, injury, or death. Don’t charge batteries while you’re sleeping or out of the house. While you charge batteries, you should always be available to take quick action if something unusual occurs.

Keep Batteries Away From Extreme Temperatures

Lithium-ion batteries work well in a wide range of temperatures, but you should avoid allowing any lithium-ion battery to reach a temperature below 32 degrees or above 265 degrees Fahrenheit. Above 265 degrees, the chemicals in the battery may become unstable, at which point it can enter thermal runaway, vent hot gas and catch fire. Newer lithium-manganese chemistry remains stable at higher temperatures – up to 482 degrees – but it’s wise to exercise caution regardless of the battery you’re using. Protect your batteries from hot items such as stoves, kettles, and clothes dryers.

Cold temperatures are likewise dangerous for lithium-ion batteries. In freezing temperatures, the lithium in a lithium-ion battery can form a plate around the anode and harm the battery’s structural integrity. It then becomes much more likely that the battery will fail if used in a high-demand scenario or charged with a fast-charging adapter.