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Why do lithium Batteries Explode?

There has been a lot in the press recently about the lithium batteries in Samsung mobile phones exploding when they are being charged. So what is it all about? Why are they exploding? And are lithium batteries in general a safe battery to use?

Lithium Batteries
The problem that has happened with these lithium batteries is that when they are being put to charge, or if there is any kind of manufacturing mistake, a short circuit can be caused, sometimes causing the battery to catch fire.

In lithium batteries, there are three components – the cathode, the anode and the lithium. The cathode and the anode are separated by a porous material which is called a separator and an electrolyte liquid. The lithium travels through the liquid between the cathode and the anode, but if the battery charges too quickly, the lithium can heat up and cause lithium plates around the anode. These plates can cause a short circuit which can result in fire or explosion.

This is the reason why charging batteries can often be a lengthy process – to avoid the over-charging and risks which come with it. Batteries are actually programmed to not charge too fast, meaning that the lithium won`t plate.

Short Circuits
There are also other ways that short circuits can occur as well. For example, if there is a small amount of contamination by small pieces of metal whilst the battery was being made, or there are some tiny holes in the sealing of the battery, the materials inside can expand, potentially causing short circuits and increasing the risk of lithium plating and over-heating.

The more that we put lithium batteries together, to create a higher charge, the higher the likelihood of over-heating as well, and with our ever-increasing desire for more energy and faster charging, the more likely we are to see this sort of problem.

Luckily technology is moving quickly in this area and we are continuously seeing these type of issues being resolved, meaning that it is still relatively safe to use these batteries. After all, there were only 35 cases in 2.5million sales of the Samsung phone. We use batteries and lithium batteries every day with very few problems.

One way that you can protect yourself from the potential issues with lithium batteries is by being aware of the signs linked to short circuiting and lithium plating.

The main sign that your battery is not as it should be is if it swells. It is most likely that the battery will swell and then stop working so if you notice swelling, send it to be recycled and buy a new one. Likewise, if you notice that the battery is becoming very hot, this is another sign. Of course batteries do heat up a little, but if you notice that it is becoming very hot, it is recommended that you get a new one.

When it comes to using lithium batteries, whilst there is a small risk, it is only a small one. By being aware of what is going on, and the signs which are linked to lithium plating, you can help to ensure that you have no problems


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