Cellphone & Laptop Battery Explosion – Reasons and Prevention

You must have heard about battery explosions in laptops, cellphones and even other gadgets. Did you ever think you might be playing with a bomb waiting to explode? Of phone and laptops, the latter is a little more dangerous though both will be a bad experience when their cells explode. Generally, they don’t, but they may if you do not handle them properly. This article will talk about laptop battery explosions. The reason and tips also apply to securing cellphone batteries as the main reasons behind unwanted behavior and dangers of a lithium ion battery are often same.

Can a laptop battery explode?

The smallest part of a battery is a cell. Consider it a capacitor that stores energy as you charge it. A laptop battery varies in number of cells. The more the cells, the more backup you get. Probably, more cells would also mean more time for a full charge. We will talk about reducing chances of laptop battery in a while. First let us look at the reasons why laptop and cellphone batteries explode.

Laptop Battery Explosion

Laptop Battery Explosion – Reasons

The first and important reason, why laptop batteries explode (or the smartphone ones) is some sort of fault with the battery. To understand what could be the fault, you need to understand how the Lithium (Li) Ion battery works. We won’t get into Physics here – rather will explore the topic in general detail.

There are different types of batteries of which, the popular rechargeable ones are either Acid base or Lithium Ion batteries. You will find an Acid base battery in cars, vehicles, etc. They are heavy boxes with acid and electrodes in it. The Lithium Ion batteries are more compact and have one electrode and an anode with suspended electrons in form of liquid.

An electrode is a plate representing source or propagator of negative (-ve) charge and the anode represents positive (+ve) charge. We all know that the electricity distribution system is built upon the fact that electrons move from –ve to +ve nodes. The positive nodes in almost all cases are the contact points where you plug in your gadgets. In case of laptops and smartphones, they are the only open points that can be seen when you remove the battery – generally copper or silver plated for a longer and better contact life. For information on Lithium batteries, please check out Wikipedia or similar website.

As explained above, there are minimum three cells in a laptop battery and the number can go up to 12. I have not yet heard of a laptop battery having more than 12 cells. Anyway, when you are using the laptop on battery, electrons flow from the –ve side of cells to the positive side (the contact points) thereby providing power to it. Similarly, when you are charging the battery, electrons are sent back to the electrode points to prepare the battery for consumption.

Plenty of factors come into play here – overcharging, over discharging, unwanted carbon build up, etc. A Lithium battery though looks simple from outside, has built-in mechanisms to disconnect from device and adjacent cells in case of overcharging etc. A faulty laptop battery is one that would not provide such mechanisms to protect the cells from overcharging etc. This is just to give you an idea of why companies have recalled products in the past saying the batteries are defective. They are missing one or more such precaution mechanisms.

Among other reasons why a laptop battery can exploding are mishandling – probably you drop it somewhere and the alignment of electrode plus anode is disturbed. This, in turn, will change the alignment of electrons in the cells which may create overheating – a known factor that explodes batteries.

Certain other reasons can be the atmosphere where you are using the laptop. If it is humid and hot enough, it will make a good case for short-circuit that – in turn – will result in overheating and hence explosion.

There is no dearth of reasons why laptop batteries explode. The same applies to cellphone batteries. Only that the laptop batteries damage more compared to cellphones as they contain more than one cell. Thus, if one cell is overheated and explodes, it will trigger a sequence of blasts where each subsequent explosion would be more dangerous.

If your laptop bursts into flames, rather than throwing water, use a fire extinguisher.

PCPitStop created conditions in which the Li-ION battery pack would explode inside a generic portable. Watch the video.

Laptop Battery Explosion – Prevention

The only answer for prevention of laptop battery explosion is proper maintenance. People tend to neglect batteries as they tend to look simple parts and that they carry pretty safe measure of voltage. But since their design is complicated, simple negligence can trigger off explosion.

Check out how you are using your laptop. Do you keep it plugged in always – even when away? Though it is fine most of the times, it is not advisable if you are to stay away from the laptop for longer times. I will recommend usage of a power stabilizer between your laptop plug and the mains. It need not be a heavy and pricy equipment. Just a power strip with appropriate fuse would do. That way, if a higher voltage burst comes along, at most the fuse will go and your laptop will disconnect from mains. If you are going to be away for a longer time – remove the laptop battery and keep it in a dry place.

If you have the habit of forgetting or leaving the laptop on overnight, I would suggest setting up a hibernate time so that it auto shuts down after saving your computer state. I often fall asleep while taking breaks and hence have set up hibernate to 40 minutes. If I don’t return back to the computer, it turns itself off. That way, I save both on energy and on possibility of any unwanted action.

If your battery is considerably old, you should replace it. If you cannot, for some reasons, I would advise you to remove the battery and run the laptop on direct power supply. Older batteries tend to take in more power and can overheat in no time. Continuing with an old and exhausted battery is dangerous. If you are not sure about the health of your battery, Windows 7 and above tell you if you need to replace it. You can also use the battery health checker or battery maintenance software provided by the manufacturer of your laptop. Some third-party software too exist that help you determine the health of your battery. If interested, please read Laptop Battery Optimization Guide on The Windows Club.

Summary

Laptop batteries are always a danger as are other products such as a pressure cooker etc. Your safety depends on how you use them. The only mantra to stay safe is to handle your gadgets with care. For more information on using batteries, please refer to the product manual pertaining to your product.

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Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN