Dangerous Phones

Last month, a 22-year old Chinese welder died as a result of the explosion of his mobile phone. This was the first fatal accident of this sort, caused by overheated batteries. The initial investigation showed that the phone battery had expanded after being exposed to high temperatures – resulting in an explosion of the phone in the man’s chest pocket. A Motorola press representative told the media sources in Beijing that these sorts of accidents are highly unlikely, and that the company is treating the matter very seriously. In previous cases of exploding mobile phones or laptops, investigations found the batteries installed to be poor quality copies, not the original manufacturer’s supplied units. However, the story immediately evolved into a public discussion of the necessary safety level of batteries installed in various devices in our daily use.

Recently, there have been several reports concerning uncontrolled overheating of batteries, resulting in sudden explosions in several computers. Apple has received nine reports of batteries overheating, including two reports of minor burns from handling overheated computers and other reports of minor property damage; A Toshiba notebook recently caught fire in the UK when its battery overheated and in another case a man in California suffered severe burns over half his body after his cell phone caught fire in his pocket.

 

 

 25,000 parallel-connected nanobatteries
25,000 parallel-connected nanobatteries

Currently several studies are being conducted towards a possible solution to this problem and new methods are being introduced in order to significantly decrease the risk of explosions of electric devices, caused by overheated batteries. A team of researchers at Tel-Aviv University (TAU) in Israel have developed a new and safer type of Li-Ion nanobattery. The technology they use may help in preventing such unexpected fires. The overheating is caused when a short circuit inside the battery accelerates chemical reaction and releases heat – which, in turn, can lead to an explosion. The technology developed at TAU uses nanobatteries, which consist of thousands small batteries. Even if one of them causes a short circuit there is no danger that an extreme increase in the battery’s temperature will occurr, the common result being just a slight loss of power.

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Matsushita Battery Industrial (Panasonic), one of the largest battery makers in Japan, has also announced the development of a solution of their own to this problem. Their battery includes a heat-resistant insulator placed next to the regular separator between the anode and the cathode inside the battery cell. The insulator layer ensures that the battery will not overheat in case a short circuit occurs. ENECO, Inc., a US-based company, has introduced its “Thermal Chip” technology, where heat, instead of chemical energy of a fuel, is converted into electricity. The system produces the heat internally, and is actively managing and constantly controlling the temperature within.  

In compliance with these innovative technologies and troubling incidents, we can see that many large computer companies like Dell and Apple are recalling the batteries installed in their products, and replacing them with new, safer ones.