Why the lithium-ion batteries found in many products keep exploding | CNN Business
Lithium-ion batteries, found in many popular consumer products, are again under scrutiny after a massive fire this week in New York City it was thought to be caused by battery that powered an electric scooter.
At least seven people have been injured in a five-alarm fire in the Bronx that required the attention of 200 firefighters. Officials believe the incident it comes from a lithium-ion scooter battery found on the roof of an apartment building. In 2022, the New York City Fire Department responded to more than 200 scooter and e-bike fires, resulting in six fatalities.
“In all these fires, these lithium-ion fires, it’s not a slow burn; there’s not a small amount of fire, it literally explodes,” FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh told reporters. “It’s a huge volume of fire as soon as it happens, and it’s very difficult to put out, and so it’s especially dangerous”.
A residential fire earlier this week in Carlsbad, Calif., was suspected to have been caused by lithium from an electric scooter. battery On Tuesday, alarming video surfaced of a Canadian homeowner coming down the stairs to find his e-bike battery bursting into flames. An apartment fire in Massachusetts last month is also being investigated for similar issues.
These incidents are becoming more frequent for several reasons. For starters, lithium-ion batteries are now found in numerous consumer technology products, power laptops, cameras, smartphones and more. They allow companies to squeeze hours of battery life into increasingly thin devices. But a combination of manufacturer issues, misuse and aging batteries can increase the risk of batteries, which use flammable materials.
“Lithium batteries are generally safe and unlikely to fail, but only as long as there are no defects and the batteries are not damaged or abused,” said Steve Kerber, vice president and executive director of the Research Institute of Fire Safety (UL) from Underwriters Laboratory (UL). FSRI). “The more stacks around us, the more incidents we’ll see.”
In 2016, Samsung issued a global recall of the Galaxy Note 7 in 2016, citing “issues with battery cells” that caused the device to catch fire and sometimes explode. HP and Sony later recalled lithium-ion computer batteries for fire hazards, and about 500,000 hoverboards were recalled due to the risk of “fire and/or explosion,” according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. USA
In 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration banned decommissioned lithium-ion metal batteries to be checked in baggage and said they must remain with a passenger in hand luggage, if approved by the airline and between 101 and 160 watt hours. “Smoke and fire incidents involving lithium batteries can be mitigated by cabin crew and passengers inside the airplane cabin,” the FAA said.
Despite the concerns, lithium-ion batteries remain prevalent in many of today’s most popular gadgets. Some tech companies point to its ability to charge faster, last longer and pack more power into a lighter package.
But not all lithium batteries are created equal.
Dylan Khoo, an analyst at technology intelligence firm ABI Research, said Electric bikes and scooters use batteries that can be about 50 times larger than a smartphone. “So when a fire occurs, it’s much more dangerous,” Khoo said.
All lithium-ion batteries use flammable materials, and incidents like the one in the Bronx are likely the result of “thermal runaway.” a chain reaction that can lead to a catastrophic fire or explosion, according to Khoo.
“This process can be triggered by overheating of the battery, a puncture or an electrical failure such as a short circuit,” Khoo said. “In cases where fires occur spontaneously during loading, they are likely due to manufacturing defects.”
According to Kerber, the number of fires involving lithium-ion batteries is growing with tremendous frequency both in the United States and internationally, especially when it comes to electric bicycles and scooters, due to an increase in purchases of these products during the pandemic.
“After the start of Covid, the use of scooters increased dramatically, especially in places like New York City, for deliveries,” Kerber said. “People started overcharging for them and turned to manufacturers who had lower quality control with battery systems. Quality manufacturers don’t have problems.”
“It will continue to happen until there are regulations on the quality of these devices,” Kerber said.
Kerber recommends that people buy UL-certified e-bikes and scooters from reputable retailers; Online marketplaces often make it difficult for customers to know where products come from. If a fire does occur, he advised people to evacuate and call 911 immediately rather than trying to put it out themselves.
“Fire spreads incredibly fast and a fire extinguisher is not effective,” he said.
Beyond scooters and e-bikes, experts warn that anyone with a lithium-ion battery should follow proper guidelines for charging and using the battery. According to researchers at the University of Michigan, any device with this type of battery should be charged and stored in a cool, dry place, and not left charging for too long or while you’re asleep, a recommendation that’s probably in disagree with how many consumers manage their devices.
“High temperatures can accelerate the degradation of almost all battery components and can lead to significant safety risks, including fire or explosion,” the researchers said. “If a laptop or mobile phone is noticeably hot while charging, unplug it. Minimize exposure to cold temperatures, especially when charging.”
Batteries should also be inspected regularly for cracks, blisters or leaks, and people should always use the charger that comes with the device or one from a trusted supplier. When charging a scooter or electric bike, Kerber said it should never block a fire exit or exit route.
While some battery chemistries are safer than others, we are still several years away from adopting a better and safer lithium-ion alternative, according to Sridhar Srinivasan, senior director at research firm Gartner market.
For example, LFP (lithium iron phosphate) batteries do not get as hot as other types of lithium ion batteries. Future battery technologies under development, such as sodium-ion or solid-state batteries, are also expected to address some of the safety concerns of lithium-ion.