And BOOM Goes the… Smartphone?

Hello all!

First of all, sorry for the delay in posting. As usual I travel on the weekends to remote locations that don’t have any kind of connections what so ever. I did take some photos, those of which, I will upload later on once I get them off of my camera and sorted out. But this weekend, I left my Samsung Galaxy Note 5 out in the sun while it was in its case, and when I retrieved it (off the dashboard of the boat), I checked the internal temperatures using an app called CPU-Z. One thing I found interesting, was that the Snapdragon Octacore processor was still able to perform reasonably well even though its temperatures had peaked past one hundred seventy five degrees Fahrenheit. Parts of the battery where at one hundred and fifty degrees, and the overall core of the battery was just past one hundred and thirty. However, despite the extreme temperatures, the phone still played music without skipping a beat. But those temps got me to thinking about what powers the phone and how delicate that one component actually is.

The lithium ion batteries that power our devices, if they are anything similar to the batteries that power RC cars and drones, seem to not like sharp impacts or extreme heat. And when you charge these batteries, you are told to put them into bags that are made out of a puncture resistant, fire resistant materiel, in case the battery decides to “do other things.” And on that point, I have been seeing more and more reports about phones “exploding” in the pockets of their users. As just a few days ago, an Australian man’s iPhone exploded after he fell on top of his iPhone and received third degree burns because of the resulting fire.

So what are the phone manufacturers not telling us about these phones? Is your phone a potential ticking time bomb? Will it randomly explode the next time you make a phone call? Probably not. As for what are the manufacturers not telling us about our phones? They have nothing else they should need to say. As in every box that a new phone comes in, there is an instruction manual that warns about the potential dangers of lithium ion batteries. But those warnings mainly focus on “Do not puncture” or “Do not put in fire” or “Do not expose to extreme heat.”

In the case of the Australian man’s exploding phone, the reason for the explosion was very simple. When he fell on his iPhone that was in his back pocket, the battery suffered from some sort of trauma, and had the internal structure of the battery damaged. And depending on the previous damage and the age of the battery, the forces that where acting upon the phone during the accident, could have been just enough to send the battery over the edge.

So what is causing these lithium batteries to explode? It’s a process called thermal runaway. When a lithium cell is damaged and causes a short circuit, the cell will start producing more heat than what can be expelled. As more of the internals of the battery start to melt down, the more heat that is produced. Finally, enough heat is being produced, the electrolyte inside will combust, causing a fire. The “exploding part is caused by the pressures built up inside of the battery will cause the surrounding packaging to pop, thus releasing the burning electrolyte.

Now there are hundreds of millions or more lithium batteries being produced every year, and billions of lithium batteries being used currently. And the number of reported cases of lithium batteries exploding are still surprisingly low. However, a number of cases involve E-cigarettes, which work by creating a short circuit and heating a coil that vaporizes the liquid in the chamber. Mind you the key word here is short circuit, and what happens when a lithium battery short circuits? It goes poof.

But exploding batteries can also be caused by improperly charging them at the wrong current and voltage, physical damage to the cell, and extreme heat.

But all in all, there is no reason to panic, your phone is not going to randomly explode. As long as you don’t leave your phone in the sun, or smash it. Plus, try to refrain from dollar store chargers, as they usually are missing all of the safety circuits that are present in the stock chargers. And the chances your phone are going to explode? Probably won’t happen to you ever.