Battery safety - overlooked by many, drastically experienced by few
Batteries are everywhere around us. In our phones, watches, wireless speakers, remotes, flashlights, toys, cars, and gadgets. Some batteries are removable, some are rechargeable. We’ve come to accept that batteries are generally safe as it’s uncommon that we witness any incidents with them. But when an incident happens, it is often severe.
In recent years we’ve seen Samsung recall a phone model which they have spent insane amounts on developing due to a poorly constructed battery. Although a relatively small number exploded, around 35 out of a million units, Samsung still decided to recall all units. Better safe than sorry.
This is not the only battery related incident though. Far from. Remember the Malaysian Airlines plane that vanished? Some outlets claim it was carrying batteries in its cargo which could have ignited. Typically, passenger airlines do not allow batteries in the cargo nor standalone lithium batteries allowed on board, as you’ve probably experienced if you have been on any flight recently.
Apple and iPhones are not without fault either. Several recent articles online report iPhones catching on fire in pockets, when held, or charged. Then we have Tesla and other EV car manufacturers with their massive car batteries that have also caught headlines.
So what’s the bottom line? Should we stop using batteries altogether?
No, of course not. It’s fair to say that our modern society depends on batteries and we can’t live without them. Research is continuously done in this field and new technological advances are sprouting every now and then. With that said, lithium batteries, one of the most common battery types out there, are still made with potentially dangerous chemicals. This is unavoidable. To store, release and charge electricity, which is an incredibly accomplishment on its own, certain materials and substances have to be used. As long as these chemicals are stored safely within the battery, they do not case any external harm. However, for these substances to work safely, they are to operate according to manufacturer’s specifications. Often the limitations are temperature and charging voltage.
For the battery to operate safely, it should also be in good shape and it should not be physically damaged, bent, or punctured. As the chemicals are stored in various compartments or chambers inside the battery, if the compartments break, the chemicals will mix and the battery will combust. Often resulting in a small fire.
How to avoid battery related accidents?
The first and foremost thing is that the battery you’re using is manufactured according to safe international standard. CE certification applies for the European market but this really doesn’t cover a whole lot. UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is an American but globally recognized safety standard that has certificates for almost all electrical products, smartphone batteries included. Make sure the battery you’re using, or the battery supplier you’re buying from has UL certified batteries. UL certification ensures that the battery is designed and manufactured according to tested and safe processes and that they also use appropriate and functioning hardware. To pass a UL certification test, the batteries are stress tested in multiple ways under controlled circumstances in laboratories. Overcharge, undercharge, drop, heat, disassembly, abusive charge tests are performed and the battery is monitored throughout the processes. UL also does spot checks in the production line regularly to make sure that the manufacturing practices are followed and that they are consistent.
Generic or no-brand batteries from vague sources will never be UL certified. For a UL certified laboratory to even begin their groundwork they will require a company with preferable a brand to apply. Then they will assess the manufacturer and manufacturing facility along with the battery’s schematics and internal components. The cost alone to have a single model certified, without guarantee of success, is over $5000.
So, for a smartphone battery to be certified, there needs to be an accountable company and manufacturer behind it, the battery’s hardware and manufacturing process needs to be up to par, certification costs need to be paid for, the manufacturing process needs to be consistent, and pass quarterly inspections. This is more than most battery brands, sellers, and suppliers out there can accomplish. As many brands try to compete with the cheapest possible battery, they cut corners and exclude important components to save a dollar. Is it worth it? We think not. To be clear, such a battery would never pass a UL certification test.
In addition to using a safe battery, it also need to be handled and operated safely. A battery that is consistently put under stress such as running multiple demanding apps, operating at high or low temperatures (above 45C/113F or below freezing), overcharging, or damaging it physically, is more prone to malfunctioning.
All ScandiTech batteries are UL certified.