What causes lithium ion batteries to explode?

What causes lithium ion batteries to explode?

by Josh Kirschner for Techlicious

Our friends from Techlicious provide additional information on the volatility of lithium ion laptop batteries.–PC Pitstop.

What do Apple, Sony, Dell, Acer, Lenovo and HP have in common? They all make laptops, sure, but each has been forced to recall their laptop batteries because of the risk of fire. In fact, since 2002, there have been more than 40 recalls due to explosion or fire risk from lithium ion batteries in laptops, phones and other electronic devices.

And when lithium ion batteries fail, they can do so in spectacular fashion. As the video below from computer support company PC Pitstop shows, lithium ion battery fires not only burn extremely hot (up to 1000 degrees fahrenheit), but can explode, sending chunks of burning metal across the room.

Lithium ion fires are also difficult to put out. Throwing water on one can actually makes matters worse. Experts recommend a Class D commercial fire extinguisher, not something most of us have sitting around the house.

UPDATE 8/9/2013: Reports from the Fire Prevention Research Institute and the FAA indicate that lithium ion battery fires do not require a Class D extinguisher—water works effectively to extinguish the flames and cool the cells to prevent further thermal runaway (thank you to Mark Rogers, Director, Dangerous Goods Programs for the Air Line Pilots Association for bringing the FAA report to my attention). If your device is plugged into an electrical outlet, it may be wise to unplug it, if possible, prior to extinguishing with water.

Article continued here:

This excerpt appears with the permission of Techlicious.

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9 thoughts on “What causes lithium ion batteries to explode?

  1. Neither this article nor the video, answer the question:
    “What causes lithium ion batteries to explode?”

    The linked article mentions “overcharging and short circuits”. Which one of these was used to create the fire in your video?


  2. My Windows 8.1 “lap-tab” has a “Conservation” power setting that stops charging the battery if the battery is > 60% charged. It is recommended if the unit is to remain plugged into the charger. This improves battery life and also minimizes the chance of fire, as the battery cannot be overcharged.

  3. Very interesting video could you do one concerning thees BATTRIES when used with Amateur radio hand sets as a radio amateur exam secretary and instructor for the amateur licence in the UK at our club I’m sure all would be interested

  4. I purchased my wife a Dell laptop and I am cautious about the battery. Should I keep it plugged in to the charger? Will this cause it to explode? I read your article and now I am really paranoid about the battery.
    Do you have any suggestions? I enjoy your articles.

    • @s f guidry: The likelihood that a battery in your laptop will catch on fire is extremely small, unless the battery has been damaged by force, heat, water, etc. So I wouldn’t be concerned about it.

      However, there is another good reason to remove the battery. Having the battery in your laptop will degrade the battery life over time. So if the laptop is continuously plugged in, it’s better to remove the battery and store it in a cool place. Just remember to charge it if you need to take your laptop ion the road!

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