Smartphone Batteries Tied to Toxic Gas Emissions

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After the exploding risk, science found another unexpected hazard of lithium-ion batteries in our mobile phones: toxic gas emissions. Scientists say smartphone batteries can emit over 100 different types of toxic fumes, including carbon monoxide.

Researchers explained while the gases can cause respiratory problems, skin and eye irritations, in some cases they can be fatal. Also, they can be very harmful to the environment.

The findings show these risks multiply when the devices are overheated or users use a damaged or improper charger. Study’s co-authors at Tsinghua University, in China, noted most smartphone users are unaware of the risks of overheating lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries power about two billion devices every year including mobile phones, cameras, laptops, and tablets. World’s governments tout this type of battery cells as the most viable energy  storing solution. But millions of households employ these batteries even in their vehicles. So, the public needs to know what the real risks are, researchers said.

In the past there were countless instances when batteries exploded which prompted voluntary recalls of millions of devices. For example, Dell pulled off shelves four million laptops after reports of spontaneous battery fires. Earlier this month, Samsung recalled its Galaxy Note 7 for the same reason.

However, the long-term risks of toxic gas emissions of these devices are not as obvious as a battery catching fire.

The Findings

Lead author Jie Sun, PhD, and her team found what exactly makes these emissions so dangerous. A battery charged at full capacity is more likely to release toxic gases than a battery that is half empty. In addition, the chemicals in each type of battery accounted for more or fewer toxic emissions, the research team found.

Researchers hope their findings could help manufacturers assess the risks and find ways to reduce toxic emissions for their customers.

Sun explained the tiny gas leaks can prove fatal if they occur in sealed environments such as a car or an aircraft compartment. It is known that carbon dioxide can do a lot of harm within very short time if there’s little to no ventilation.

In their study, scientists overheated 20,000 batteries, some of which reached the point of combustion. While some devices exploded, others released toxic gases. The team explained batteries can explode or overheat in real-life situations as well in case of extreme temperatures or battery damage.

iPhone 7 Bursts into Flames

The Chinese team now plans to refine their newly-found detection technique so the battery and electric vehicle industry can improve the safety of their devices.

This week, an Australian surf instructor’s iPhone 7 caught fire out of the blue after he left it in his car. The man said he left the device unattended while he went for a surfing lesson. When he got back to the car he saw the vehicle filled with smoke, and the interior charred.

The surf instructor said he saw that his iPhone had virtually melted within his pants. Apple said it will start an investigation into the matter. Probably the heat inside the car paired with the fact that the phone was sitting under the man’s clothes caused it to overheat.

Researchers reported their findings in Nano Energy.

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