When Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone back in August, with its much-lauded battery life, the South Korean firm looked like it was onto a winner — until the phones started bursting into flames. Initially, the tech giant cited “battery cell issues” in September but since then, radio silence on the cause of the fault. Not only did the Seoul-based firm face an embarrassing worldwide recall, but subsequent replacement phones also faced similar issues.
Attention has continued to focus on the phone’s lithium-ion battery. Having failed to fix the disastrous problem, Samsung announced a permanent end to production of the troubled smartphone last week. With many of our electronics using these lithium-ion batteries, consumers have been left wondering if they are safe.
Batteries are just containers that convert chemical energy to electrical energy through the transfer of electrons from the negative plate — or anode — at one end of the battery to the cathode — or positive plate at the other end. The difference with the lithium-ion batteries is that they are rechargeable which is a game-changer for tech innovation.
So, having the ability to recharge your battery for years has triggered this whole electronics revolution starting in the beginning of 1990s until today. It has enabled the production of all mobile phones, medical devices, wearables, tablets, our thin laptops as a result of the lithium-ion battery. Lithium is the lightest metal in the world which is why they use it but it is also extremely volatile. Almost every laptop and smartphone on the planet is designed with this standard formulation which is a combination of cobalt-oxide and lithium.
Speculation among researchers suggests that the battery manufacturing process could be the source of the smartphone fires, but ultimately no one knows. And the lack of information creates consumer anxiety which could ripple out to the wider electronics industries. To some extent, it potentially tarnishes all the manufacturers. With respect to Samsung’s issues, some experts say the fact the high-end phone has been discontinued points towards a design flaw and not a production error.
This is not the first time lithium-ion batteries have hit the headlines. Although the Samsung phone’s battery is different to wireless phones found available on some airplanes, Boeing faced similar issues with lithium-ion batteries in their Dreamliner aircraft. Their entire global fleet was grounded in 2013 after multiple instances of overheating batteries in Boston and Tokyo. There have also been incidents of people using iPhones as well where the battery has caught on fire.
Some tips people can follow to make sure they don’t run into any battery problems?
- Though it may be tempting to buy cheap batteries, you want to only use the manufacturer’s original battery or those from well-known replacement brands.
- Don’t leave your device in hot areas, especially if it’s charging. That only makes overheating problems worse. Ambient temperatures affect batteries a lot.
- If your phone is charging or you are using functions that cause it to heat up a lot (especially on laptops), make sure you are using it in a ventilated place. This is especially important if it is charging overnight.
- And surprisingly, charging your battery once it hits 50 percent is actually a good thing. Li-ion batteries don’t suffer from memory issues like some batteries, but they can be damaged by low voltage.
If a battery manufacturer follows all the guidelines, they can certainly produce a perfectly safe battery. Based on my research I would not consider consumers are not at immediate risk from phones in their pockets blowing up. It’s now common knowledge that Samsung’s problem has been confined to this one model, the Note 7. That being said, the Samsung Note 7 incident has certainly prompted many people to be much more aware of the battery in their devices arming them with the knowledge and fear that a battery in any device can be dangerous.