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Why Does a Lithium-ion Battery Explode?

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When I turned around I felt the burns on my face. There were sparks and a little fire.” It is the testimony of the young Australian who suffered burns on her face and hands due to the explosion of her wireless headset during a flight between Beijing and Melbourne.”

His was an exceptional case due to the seriousness of the accident, but it is neither the first of its kind that occurs in an airplane nor the first time that an electronic device that works with lithium-ion batteries exploded. This problem, in fact, forced Samsung to suspend the sale of its S7 model. 

But the real culprit is not lithium, a material that, although it is true that it is very reactive, should never cause an explosion if the appliances it powers are well designed and manufactured or if there is no mishandling. 

If this happens, the key to aborting any incident is to prevent them from overheating. It is the alarm signal to turn off the computer, mobile, headphones, or any other device to which it supplies power.

What is the Reason that They can Explode?

lithium-ion Battery Explode

 

That lithium batteries explode is still something exceptional, but if it happens it is due, among other causes, to excessive heating or improper handling of the device that can lead to it being subjected to inadequate pressure, such as, for example when someone sits on top of the device. 

“Batteries are still batteries that are overheating because energy is being extracted from them and the components around them are also overheating. And when a critical temperature is reached they explode, explains Antonio García Loureiro, from the Department of Electronics and Computing of the Singular Center for Information Technology Research at the University of Santiago.

 “They are safer than the old ones, but more delicate because they withstand deep discharges much worse, which can damage the cells,” says Víctor Ángel Alfonsín Pérez, master’s degree in Thermal Engineering from the University of Vigo.

And the Original Cause?

Overheating or improper handling is the final cause of the explosion, but the root of the problem lies in the poor design of the device in which the battery is placed, as could have happened to the Samsung 7, in poor manufacturing of the battery. itself, in a software error that regulates the loading process or in a failure in quality controls. 

“If the mobile or any other device is well designed, there should be no problem”, warns García Loureiro. And the same is believed by Alfonsín Pérez, who thinks that sometimes you can take too much risk. “Every time we want more energy in less space and for less money, but there are limits,” he says.

What Is the Chemical Process That Generates the Explosion?

The interior of a battery contains electrodes wound on themselves and that is where the chemical reactions that allow the transport of electrons take place. An excessive increase in temperature or an overvoltage forms bubbles of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases, which take up more and more space, increasing the pressure, to the point where the system cannot take it any longer and explodes.

Why Have There Been Several Plane Crashes?

Purely by chance, since there is no technical reason to explain it. “What happens is that as there are more and more people traveling on planes with electronic devices, the chances increase, but the risk is neither greater nor less than on the ground,” confirms Alfonsín.

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