Smartphones and other electronic gadgets that use lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries — used in billions of mobile devices — and charged to 100 per cent are more likely to release toxic gases and explode than a half-charged battery when the batteries overheat or explode, new research suggests.
These findings, including that the gases can cause serious sickness and even death, are crucial in the wake of reports of exploding phones.
The Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, made by Samsung Electronics, and its replacement were banned on aeroplanes as they were prone to exploding. They were recalled because they overheat and pose a safety risk.
A week ago, the top floor of a residential house in the upmarket Kileleshwa suburb of Nairobi was reduced to ashes when a power bank that was being charged exploded and set fire to the house.
Power banks — for energy-hungry smartphones with larger screens — also use lithium-ion batteries.
EMIT HARMFUL GASES
The gases from these batteries cause irritation to the skin, eyes and nasal passages and are fatal. The gases are also harmful to the environment. One of them, carbon monoxide, is colourless, odourless and tasteless and is poisonous and potentially fatal.
If leaked inside a small, sealed environment, such as the interior of a car or an aeroplane, carbon monoxide can cause serious harm within a short period of time, according to Dr Jie Sun of the Institute of NBC Defence and Tsinghua University in China, who conducted the research.
The report of the study — Toxicity, a Serious Concern of Thermal Runaway from Commercial Li-ion Battery — was published in the Nano Energy Journal, which publishes articles on science and engineering.
The study further notes consumers are unaware of the risks related to overheating and using low-quality or damaged chargers for smartphones.
Dr Jie says it is imperative that the general public understands the risks behind the lithium-ion battery used by millions of families.
The batteries are preferred as they can hold twice as much energy as a nickel-based one and four times that of a lead acid battery and are easy to use, says the study.