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Unearthing the science behind why smartphone batteries explode

With Global Technology Giants Intensely Competing Against Each Other To Win A Larger Chunk Of The Ever Growing Smartphone Market, There Is Flip-side In Continuously Unveiling Newer Models Embedded With Cutting Edge Technology To Provide Customer Delight.

News Nation Bureau | Edited By : Gautam Lalotra | Updated on: 12 Oct 2016, 12:11:57 PM
Samsung Smartphone - File Photo (Getty)

New Delhi:

In the world of continuously evolving technology, nothing is full proof or safe in every respect. The much revered quality concept of Six Sigma also brings to light that the best possible quality measure or checking norm results in 3.4 defects per million pieces of products manufactured.

With global technology giants intensely competing against each other to win a larger chunk of the ever growing smartphone market, there is flip-side in continuously unveiling newer models embedded with cutting edge technology to provide customer delight and gain market share.

South Korean tech major Samsung has bitten the dust in recent times with some of its flagship 'Galaxy 7' phone exploding and catching fire. The diversified major has defended itself by stating that only a handful of its sets had this much reported technical glitch, nevertheless even one set exploding could have catastrophic implications.  

With the human lifestyles becoming more robot like and cell phones becoming mankind's favored toy, the never ending zeal to upgrade to better equipped phones has forced manufacturers to churn out millions of smartphone models to meet the never ending demands of its loyal customer. There is a famous cleash in the industry which states that quality does not go with quality. 

in recent times, there have been incidences of phone batteries exploding which has created a sense of fear among the premium smartphone consumers. 

So does the manufacturer have to be blamed completely for creating these freak incidents or does the mechanical lifestyles of the tech savvy consumers also have to be attributed to these disasters which are a potent threat to human lives.

So let us look into how does a Lithium phone battery work and when can it be most vulnerable.

How does a Lithium phone battery

Like any other battery, there are three parts to a lithium ion battery: the anode, cathode and electrolyte.The anode and the cathode are electrical terminals called electrodes, and the electrolyte is the chemical in between them that conducts the electricity.

While the cathode holds positively charged ions, the anode holds the negatively charged ones. Both anode and cathode are in the electrolyte but are separated by a physical barrier so they can’t touch.

When the phone is being used, charge is pushed from the positive cathode through the electrolyte and attracted to the anode before flowing out to the different components of the phone. Once you’re plugged in and charging, this process is reversed.

When do smartphone batteries become vulnerable 

1. Enhanced storage power by increasing Voltage

Companies try to make batteries store more power by increasing voltage. Voltage is a way to measure force. Think of voltage like the height of a waterfall, while current is like the amount of water flowing. The higher the voltage, the more power there is in the battery, so manufacturers try to pump this up by adding elements like nickel to the lithium. But gain the higher the voltage is, the more likely the electrolytes are to combine in a way that makes them catch fire.

2. Overcharging 

Overcharging is like filling up a bucket with too much water. In the case of batteries, overcharging happens when too much lithium goes into the anode. This isn’t something you risk from keeping your phone plugged in all night, most batteries are designed to automatically prevent overcharging. Rather, it’s a manufacturer defect that can happen when the circuitry that prevents this from happening is faulty.

3. Quick charge

If the battery charges too fast, generating heat, lithium plates form around the anode which can create a short circuit.Normally you would have a battery management system that controls the rate at which you charge. Batteries are optimized so that one dosent charge it too fast, if one does so then it will plate the lithium.

4. Sensative to High temperatures

Lithium ion batteries begin to degrade almost immediately after leaving the factory. This is why a two-year old phone won’t keep charge as well as a six-month old one. What’s more, they’re very sensitive to high temperatures.

Secondly, when the (extremely volatile) electrolyte is inside a sealed battery case (like in a smartphone) pressure builds up and, on rare occasions, will actually puncture the casing. That’s when the electrolyte (which is more like a paste than a fluid) seeps out and comes into contact with the other components of the phone.

In a nutshell, once can conclude that a level playing field will have to be sought between the manufacturer and the customer so that phones are technologically embeded with features but safe at the same time.

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First Published : 12 Oct 2016, 11:52:00 AM

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