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Lithium-Ion Batteries Linked to Airplane Fires 244

Posted by timothy
from the mine-keep-not-exploding dept.
smellsofbikes writes "The National Safety Transportation Board thinks it's possible that lithium-ion batteries caused a fire that destroyed a United Parcel Service airplane on Feb 8, 2006. The FAA already bans non-rechargeable lithium batteries from air shipment because aircraft don't carry fire suppression equipment capable of extinguishing lithium fires. The interesting thing is: these batteries aren't being used or charged, they're just being shipped: spontaneous battery combustion. Is this something that happens in the back of computer stores, or just on airplanes?"
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Lithium-Ion Batteries Linked to Airplane Fires

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  • squished? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022)
    is squishing a lithium ion battery enough to make it catch fire?
    • Re:squished? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jabber (13196)
      My thought would be depressurization or freezing.
      • Re:squished? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ResidntGeek (772730) on Monday July 17, 2006 @04:57PM (#15733646) Journal
        Nope. Lithium is an alkali metal. Alkali metals ignite on contact with water. The more active ones (Cesium most of all) violently explode. I imagine a small puncture in a battery could let in enough atmospheric water vapor to ignite a battery.
        • Re:squished? (Score:5, Informative)

          by treeves (963993) on Monday July 17, 2006 @04:59PM (#15733664) Homepage Journal
          That would be a plausible explanation if the battery contained elemental lithium. They don't. They contain compounds of Li.
          • Re:squished? (Score:3, Informative)

            by tomhudson (43916)

            The problem is that already-charged lithium batteries contain a lot of energy, and if they short out, they will heat up fast.

            A new, uncharged rechargeable battery, on the other hand, is basically a dead battery. Short it out and nothing happens.

            Here's something you can try at home if you're a total skeptic: charge up your cell-phone battery, remove it from your phone and drop it in your pocket along with some change or a set of keys, and go for a walk. You'll KNOW when the battery shorts ut.

            • Re:squished? (Score:3, Interesting)

              by johnny cashed (590023)
              Excellent point, but Li-Ion batteries are damaged if discharged below a certain point. So even discharged (in normal usage) Li-Ion batteries still have some energy in them.
              • Re:squished? (Score:4, Informative)

                by tomhudson (43916) <barbara...hudson@@@barbara-hudson...com> on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:20PM (#15733819) Journal

                The article pointed out thes are non-rechargeable lithium batteries - the disposable type you put in cameras, etc. They're fully charged when manufactured, so there's no way to ship them in even a partially-discharged state. When a new one goes, either from design defect, poor quality control, or mishandling, it REALLY goes.

                Also, you CAN completely discharge a rechargeable lithium battery and then recharge it. (How do I know it was completely discharged? Stupid me put it in my pocket with change and keys - so you KNOW that it got shorted out at some point - but it was totally dead, so no harm done). The recharging circuitry isn't supposed to let you recharge a completely dead battery (the battery will get REALLY warm, for example), but I've done it. That particular cell phone battery is now 5 years old, been through well over its rated maximum charge/discharge cycles - 500, and still keeps a 50% or greater charge (though for a while it would keep hardly any charge at all).

                • Re:squished? (Score:4, Insightful)

                  by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:36PM (#15733953) Homepage Journal
                  Also, you CAN completely discharge a rechargeable lithium battery and then recharge it. (How do I know it was completely discharged? Stupid me put it in my pocket with change and keys - so you KNOW that it got shorted out at some point - but it was totally dead, so no harm done).

                  Assuming you're talking about a fairly modern battery, it probably wasn't completely discharged. Most modern Li-Ion batteries contain a voltage regulator and a low-voltage cutoff. If the voltage drops below a certain point, they cut off power flow out of the battery to prevent you from destroying it by fully discharging it.

              • Re:squished? (Score:5, Interesting)

                by Directrix1 (157787) on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:20PM (#15733822)
                Let me just say that a Lithium-Ion battery can do some pretty nasty stuff. I had one out of my camera (a small Nikon digital) sitting on my bedside table next to my camera. One night I dropped it on the floor. I don't know what that did to it, but it started to bulge and become untouchably hot. I put it inside a pyrex container on the kitchen floor for the rest of the night in case it went poof. By morning it was fully discharged, but still had the bulge in it. I thought that thing was going to explode for sure, but luckily it didn't.
                • Re:squished? (Score:2, Interesting)

                  by s13g3 (110658)
                  I had something very similiar happen to me as well, though it was not the battery for my nikon (long discharged and no problems), but rather the battery for my Audiovox 6600 PocketPC. I had cancelled the service for which the phone was branded and purchased a different a different device to use for the phone purpose. While out one night and without a charger, the phone died, and I didn't charge it for a day. The next day, upon trying to remove it from the metal case/shell, I found it wedged tight. When I fi
              • Re:squished? (Score:4, Informative)

                by v1 (525388) on Tuesday July 18, 2006 @07:49AM (#15735542) Homepage Journal
                So called "deep cycling" a liio battery (or nimh actually) is not good on a battery. I don't know the exact nature of the damage, (whether its an irreversable chemical change, drying out of the electrolyte, or possible plate damage) but I've read in many places with my electronics work that deep cyclng liio and nimh batteries damages their ability to take a charge. Such batteries that are completely discharged for a period of time tend to not accept a new charge at all, rendering them bricked. I have ran into this problem more than once myself. If you have any small products that use liio or nimh batteries and you have let them sit in a clothset for several months you will find that they are fully discharged and very often they will refuse to charge at all. (nicd do not appear to have this problem, or at least not to the same extent) This is why ALL liio/nimh batteries you will find their documentation says they ship with a "partitial charge" to avoid an extended wait in the warehouse resulting in a DOA.

                I doubt the liio batteries are catching fire due to taking on water. They WILL however explode if placed in a fire, as all rechargeable batteries have a warning label on them to not dispose of in fire and that is why. If the pack is badly designed and somehow several of the cells are allowed to short, such as if the recharge control chip shorts out, this can lead to the batteries dead shorting. (this is only an issue if the cells are charged, which as I mentioned is pretty much assured) Any rechargeable battery (liio, nimh, or nicd) will get extremely hot when dead shorted while charged, as all the energy of its charge is rapidly released. (most laptop batteries are around 50 watts normal discharge, which can translate easily into 200-300 watt discharges when shorted) Liio carries the additional penalty of being more prone to explosion when superheated, and this can lead to them exploding if shorted.

                Though in this article it does not sound like explosion was an issue, more fire. This probably means a pack shorted out (defective, failed) and overheated, catching its battery case on fire due to heat. The burning case eventually helped raise the battery temperature enough to lead to the ignition of the battery electrolyte. (the lithium itself) Once a pallet of liio batteries starts on fire, fire suppression really doesn't matter any more. When the fire department has to deal with things like that they don't try to put it out - they just get everything flammable away from it and cover it with water to suppress the heat until it burns itself out. Once the lithium goes from merely hot to actually burning, you cannot smother it with water, it will rip the oxygen right off the water molicules to continue to burn. So the plane's fire suppression system would have actually fed such a fire. Foam (or something solid) is about the only thing that has a chance of suppressing a lithium fire, and even that is not very effective due to the intense heat of burning lithium vaporizing the foam. (it takes a lot of foam)
            • The War? No. . Motorcycle accident? No. . Slashdot? YES!!!

              "Here's something you can try at home if you're a total skeptic" ..

              Skepticism. . like exploding batteries. . is dangerous. .
              • I figure anyone who actually tries it deserves one of these [darwinawards.com]

                Kind of like the oakie who went to the doctor for a vasectomy:

                Oakie: I want to get a vasectomy.
                Dr: Just put a cherry bomb in an empty beer can and count to 10.

                ... Oakie sees 3 doctors, and they all say the same thing ... until finally ...

                Dr: No problem, my secretary can book you an appointment.
                Oakie: Great doc. Hey, can you explain why all the other docs said I should just stick a cherry bomb in an empty beer can and count to ten?
                Dr:

            • Here's something you can try at home if you're a total skeptic: charge up your cell-phone battery, remove it from your phone and drop it in your pocket along with some change or a set of keys, and go for a walk. You'll KNOW when the battery shorts ut.

              OK, in all seriousness... for the thinking impaired: DO NOT ACTUALLY DO THIS!

              This public service message brought to you by the Society to Protect Stupid People.

              • Re:squished? (Score:2, Insightful)

                by RetroGeek (206522)
                This public service message brought to you by the Society to Protect Stupid People.

                Whatever for?
                • This public service message brought to you by the Society to Protect Stupid People.
                  Whatever for?

                  Uhm...

                  Uhhh...

                  Oh, man, I knew I shoulda read the charter closer!

                • Re:squished? (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by dfung (68701)
                  This public service message brought to you by the Society to Protect Stupid People.


                  Whatever for?


                  If it wasn't for the Society, there would be nobody to get "First Post"!

            • I did. Every piece of electronics survived except for my phone, which was in my shirt. Which, fortunately, I was not wearing when the battery got hot...river water is not too conductive usually, but this was tidal. Advice: don't try this in the sea.
          • Shit, you're right. I thought Lithium-ion batteries had lithium metal. My bad.
          • Re:squished? (Score:3, Interesting)

            by dattaway (3088)
            That would be a plausible explanation if the battery contained elemental lithium. They don't. They contain compounds of Li.

            I've taken apart a few lithium coin batteries. They have a soft metalic square of what I believe lithium on one of the plates. The metal is soft, can be easily cut and oxidizes from its shiny appearance to a dull grey in seconds. It can be easily ignited into a very bright light which seems brighter than the sun. Also, it can be dropped into a cup of water and it skeeters around lik
        • "(Cesium most of all) violently explode"

          lets not forget Francium.. not only does it violently explode but it is radio active ..

          good thing it is the worlds rarest element (not counting man made crap in partical coliders)
        • So you are saying they are Gremlins(tm)?
    • The short story is 'maybe'. Read this, it will answer most of the questions.

      http://www.theinquirer.net/default.aspx?article=14 417 [theinquirer.net]

              -Charlie
  • Environmental stress (Score:5, Informative)

    by morcheeba (260908) * on Monday July 17, 2006 @04:53PM (#15733620) Journal
    It's not just spontaneous, it's environmental stress. A cargo hold is a cold, low pressure, high vibration environment . This may be the first time a newly-made battery is exposed to these factors, causing infant mortality flaws in manufacture to become aparent. Even after the infant mortality portion of the bathtub curve [wikipedia.org], reliability calculations typically rate one hour of cargo flight time as worth 10-20 hours on the ground. That flight from china may be equal to 10 days on the ground.
    • by schnikies79 (788746) on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:13PM (#15733783)
      The main cargo area on UPS jets has standard cabin pressure. The lower cargo areas on select planes are not pressurized.
    • A cargo hold is a cold, low pressure, high vibration environment.

      It's a popular misconception that pressurized airplanes have un-pressurized (and unheated) cargo spaces.

      Why are airliners cylindrical, while buses are not? Pressurization. In a pressurized fuselage, what will happen if there are two chambers separated by the floor -- the pressurized passenger compartment above and an unpressurized hold below? Boom.

      If an airplane is pressurized (basically anything that flies over 18,000', i.e. every

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 17, 2006 @04:54PM (#15733627)
    Flashlight geeks have been dealing with this issue for a while.

    http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php ?t=78843 [candlepowerforums.com]

    http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showthread.php ?t=124776 [candlepowerforums.com]

    There have been several documented "venting with flames" of primary CR123A batteries. Rechargeables seem to be a lot more stable, occasional Dell laptop conflagarations notwithstanding.
    • by dpaton.net (199423) on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:33PM (#15733924) Homepage Journal
      A majority of CR123s aren't designed for contsant discharge at a relatively high rate. They are marketed to the photo market, where there are pulses of high power and long periods of very low draw. They do function at higher draws, but with reduced lifespan. This is hidden deep in the spec sheets, where the pulsed current recovery and discharge profile math is. I'm not terribly surprised that people have problems with lithium primary cells (NOT Li-po, Li-Ion, or any of the rechargable Li chemistries) in use for high current loads like the high power miniature flashlights out there like the Pelican M6 [pelican.com] (the example cited in the second CandlePower link). The Xenon bulb version will suck the power out of a pair of CR123s in 1 hour. Calling the batteries 1300mAH (an average, according to Google), that means they're being loaded to about 1.3A each. That's a ~1C discharge rate. Most cells I found data sheets on didn't show a 1.3A discharge curve, instead showing a 1A curve or 1200mA pulse discharge measurement, using a 3s on / 7s off (30%) duty cycle. 10% can mean a lot in these cases. Odds are a lot of those cells are being used on the edge of or well past their design envelope. Beating up batteries like that can cause trouble, especially for cells that are fragile. Of course, not all are. The Energizer E2 photo lithium CR123 shows a capacity of 1.5AH and a 1000mA discharge life of 1.2 hours. It's probably the one used by Pelican to reach the rating of their flashlight, even if it looks like they did push the cells a little past their design limits.

      Lithium primary cells generally do not have construction compatible with fast discharge. Often it can be gotten away with if the discharge is under 0.6C or is of a pulsed nature. Continuous discharge will kill them tho, a flaming, explosive kill.

      Batteries have ever-increasing power densities, and deserve respect from designers. Just tossing 123s in is a BAD idea IMO. I was an engineer on a project where someone did just slap one in without consideration. When we put the test unit through its paces, blammo. Pulling 2A out of a 1.5A battery for 7 seconds is OK in NiCads and NiMH cells and even rechargable LiPoly prismatics if you know what you're doing. This was a dime store photo battery, and it went off like a small cannon after a few seconds.

      People don't think about the design envelope for batteries as much as they should any more. It's unfortunate.

      My US$0.02 as an engineer.
      • Nice post with extra chunky detail. It made my inner geek cry and sing. Thank you.

        Since you understand that not respecting the specifications on a Li battery can have some seriously detrimental effects, just imagine what this [slashdot.org] could do in the hands of Joe sixpack.

        How do you spell "BZZZZT!" anyway?
    • Flashlight geeks have been dealing with this issue for a while.

      I'd imagine this would be true if they are using cheap Li-Ion batteries or mixing cells from different brands. Hell, it's not even wise to mix cells of different ages of the same brand (old versus new).

      IIRC, Lithium Ion battery charge can creep from one cell to another and due to the fragile nature of these batteries (easily overcome with proper circuitry) it's possible one cell can overcharge another. IE, if one cell discharges faster than anot
    • The smoke and debris may include hydrofluoric acid. Make absolutely sure that the ambulance crew and the doctor know about this.

      HF doesn't eat your skin and char your muscles the way sulfuric acid does. It seeps into your system through the skin and causes devastating delayed-onset reactions. You can spill HF on you, think you're OK, and be dead two days later.

      Call Poison Control for advice while you're waiting for the ambulance if battery debris hits you. I've seen posts that quote safety procedures as inc
  • by LordPhantom (763327) on Monday July 17, 2006 @04:54PM (#15733631)
    ...can these be modified by someone with nasty goals in such a manner that they might actually bring down an airplane? Disturbing thought if true....
  • UPS = Ooops (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Monday July 17, 2006 @04:55PM (#15733637)

    Given how some of my UPS packages arrive looking like they were dragged to my house behind the truck, I would say that it is pretty likely that UPS is doing things to the batteries that my computer store doesn't.

    • Re:UPS = Ooops (Score:4, Informative)

      by CheddarHead (811916) on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:08PM (#15733744)
      Back when I was in college there was a brief period where I payed my rent and got beer money by working at a UPS facility. I worked loading UPS semi trailers with packages. The packages would come off of a conveyor belt, and our job was to load the truck as fast as possible.

      To make a long story short, we were not particularly gentle with the packages. In fact if you saw the way the trucks were loaded, you'd be surprised at what good conditions your packages are in. I still use UPS, but I always make sure that things are packed very, very well.
      • I used to work for UPS for the same reasons. Those trucks are packed so there's almost not wasted space. Sometimes not enough room is left for a few extra microbes the way we needed to shove stuff in there. I still use UPS too. Like the parent poster said, however, everything is handled rather rough, which is okay for most computers because they've got pleanty of shock-proof styrofoam.

        Granted, they will take care to make sure your small, fragile looking packages sit on top, this doesn't mean a lot beca

      • Re:UPS = Ooops (Score:4, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:41PM (#15733991) Homepage Journal

        And for those who are wondering what this guy means, what he means is that the back of the truck gets loaded, with boxes stacked. Then the front of the truck gets loaded, by throwing boxes over the top of the boxes right in the back of the truck.

        One of my buddies used to work for UPS in Santa Cruz, CA. They had a chute that the packages came down, about ten feet long, and crashed onto the conveyor belt, from which point they threw them at the trucks. The chute had a big nasty bolt sticking down in the top of it, and occasionally large packages would get stuck on the bolt, gouging big holes in 'em. Someone would have to climb up the shaft, and unclog it.

    • It may not be UPS (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mnmn (145599)
      I've heard of the strangest things blamed for airplane crashes. The fact is that some pretty smart people are put on the investigation of a crash, paid handsomely and given a deadline to produce an answer. Their jobs might depend on it. As the investigation progresses, theres always a 'most likely cause' that changes. When the deadline arrives, the most likely cause of the day becomes the answer.

      Some things only happen on airplane crashes.
    • Clearly you haven't been to my computer store.
  • Pressure? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by reality-bytes (119275) on Monday July 17, 2006 @04:56PM (#15733643) Homepage
    TFA doesn't say whether the one that caught fire in the hand luggage was after landing or not but the rest seem to be post-flight.

    Now, when you're on a commercial flight cruising along at 33,000ft, you may only be pressurised to 9,000ft and this, of course, includes your hand luggage.

    Is it possible that the depressurisation to 9,000ft alt and the repressurisation on landing resultant expansion and compression cycle of the lithium batteries and causing them to somehow fail?
  • by creimer (824291) on Monday July 17, 2006 @04:59PM (#15733659) Homepage
    The good news is that it wasn't an exploding MacBook.
  • Warning... (Score:5, Funny)

    by CaseM (746707) on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:01PM (#15733679)
    Oxygen linked to fires...time to take ACTION!!
  • Lithium-Ion batteries are always kept partially charged, as they last longer this way and it can be dangerous to attempt charging a battery under a certain voltage. So a laptop battery contains a significant amount of stored energy, meaning any internal short from stress, damage, or manufacturing defect could easily result in fire. It's not really spontaneous, or any big mystery.
  • by deathcow (455995) * on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:05PM (#15733709)

    I've seen it with my own eyes. I wrote the embedded software (8051 C) for a robotic bone lengthener / deformity corrector in the early 90's, it was powered by Lithium batteries that ran the motors and provided 5V for all the electronics. On more than one occasion (during development) we had Lithium batteries just go up in fire and smoke, for no apparent reason. It caused us a lot of worry to say the least, especially since any bad and ready to blow cells were packed into packs with surrounding cells.. to add to the fire. This was 12 years ago, so I am sure Lithium batteries are better than ever, but it doesn't suprise me to hear about them going up in flames.
    • Wow, someone else who wrote code for an old Intel 8051C Microcontroller! I also wrote code for this animal in PL/M in the early 90's. It was a very versatile chip for it's day. We ran all the radio traffic in an airplane with one of these, and added in a TI C30 DSP to add warning tones for altitude, etc. High tech for it's day but we have kids toys with more CPU power these days. Does remembering the 90's make us "Antique Geeks" ?
    • I can't speak to lithium batteries, but I can tell you that NiMH rechargeables are pretty sensitive to moderately high temperatures. I've never cooked one by putting it under excessive load, but I lit several before I learned the trick of how to solder the solder-tab variety. I had one blow once when I was applying heat-shrink tubing to a series of them and kept the heat gun still a little too long.

      Now, as I said, I don't know much about lithium batteries, but batteries in general use chemical processes to
  • Fragile (Score:5, Funny)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:08PM (#15733745) Journal
    UPS Dictionary says .....

    Fragile (fra-gil-lay) from early French n. To toss about with reckless abandon.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:12PM (#15733770)
    How about another airplane disaster movie? I'm thinking of calling it...

    "Li-ons on planes"
  • aircraft don't carry fire suppression equipment capable of extinguishing lithium fires.

    I googled it quickly and found this http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0UBT/is _29_18/ai_n6280927 [findarticles.com]. Planes don't carry water??
    • by HaloZero (610207) <<protodeka> <at> <gmail.com>> on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:18PM (#15733813) Homepage
      * Water may be used to extinguish packaging fires if batteries have not ruptured; water is not an effective extinguishing agent for a battery fire.

      * For small fires involving the battery [extinguishing] media such as Lith-X or copper powder may be used, but should be applied with a long handled tool. Do not use CO2 or Halon directly on a battery fire as the exposed surface of the contained lithium may react with these materials.

      * For larger fires involving lithium batteries, copious amounts of water may be applied, from a safe distance, to control the fire and protect adjacent materials and facilities.


      Simply put, water won't do the trick. It may contain the fire (by dousing the flames / removing its heat from the equation), but it won't extinguish it. Also, dumping water onto a battery fire just causes a lot of steam. Depending on the size of fire and the amount of water (since the key term used above is copious), you could turn a sealed airplane into a pressure cooker in just a few minutes, and no one is going to be happy about that.
    • by Carnildo (712617) on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:30PM (#15733902) Homepage Journal
      I googled it quickly and found this http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0UBT/is [findarticles.com] _29_18/ai_n6280927. Planes don't carry water??

      Not in the volumes needed to extinguish a burning battery:

      * Water may be used to extinguish packaging fires if batteries have not ruptured; water is not an effective extinguishing agent for a battery fire.

      As it says, water is not effective if the battery itself is burning.

      * For small fires involving the battery [extinguishing] media such as Lith-X or copper powder may be used, but should be applied with a long handled tool. Do not use CO2 or Halon directly on a battery fire as the exposed surface of the contained lithium may react with these materials.

      Airplane fire extinguishers are almost universally halon-based, as halons don't corrode aircraft components, and they work at low concentrations: you can do things like discharge an extingusher into a running engine, or put out a fire in the cockpit without suffocating the pilots.

      * For larger fires involving lithium batteries, copious amounts of water may be applied, from a safe distance, to control the fire and protect adjacent materials and facilities

      Here, "copious amounts of water" means the sort of water flow that a pumper truck attached to a hydrant can provide.
  • lipo fires (Score:4, Informative)

    by heli_flyer (614850) on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:13PM (#15733781)
    Electric RC flyers have been dealing with this issue for a while.

    Here is an informational thread about lipo batteries:

    http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t=20 9187 [rcgroups.com]
  • by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@wor f . n et> on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:14PM (#15733792)
    One of the failure modes of a Li-Ion battery is what the industry calls "vent with flame", or what everyone else calls, a fire. (A very spectacular one, at that - not just ignition, but the fire actually shoots out like a jet).

    Li-Ion batteries are extremely volatile and sensitive, which is why good batteries have a variety of protective circuits on them (or can have) - e.g., physical distortion (detects if the battery balloons), over temperature (charging/discharge), over current, unsafe low voltage (if the battery voltage falls too low, you can't charge it safely), and many more. That's also why their charge regimen is so complex (charge at constant current to ~90% capacity, then constant voltage charge to 100%. Then stop all charging until capacity is around 90% again, then restart CV charge - this is why the first 80% can happen relatively quickly, while the last 20% can often take as long as it took to get to 80% in the first place) since they need charge controllers and "smart chips" to monitor the state of the battery.

    Usually these events happen when the battery is actually used, but there isn't anything to say that it can happen otherwise. Those protective circuits require power, and they get their power from the battery while outside the device. And since you cannot store Li-Ion batteries discharged very well, they are often charged at the factory, during assembly and final sale. A nice short somewhere along the line and battery will vent with flame.

    There's a reason why most LiIon batteries have hard to get at terminals or come with protective covers. It's not for convenience, but more for during storage/shipping, so the terminals don't get shorted.

    Oh yeah, those protective circuits are optional - not all batteries have every one (some may not need it or find a way to protect it in another way - battery distortion can be handled by having the battery having to fit in a slot - if it can't fit, well...). Third party ultra cheap batteries may have *no* protective circuits at all (hence those "Nokia Exploding Batteries").
  • by Cherita Chen (936355) on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:17PM (#15733807) Homepage
    Check out these photos here [klaudius.free.fr] of lithium polymer batteries (commonly used in r/c models) in action... SUPER FUN HAPPY BURN THE HOUSE DOWN TOYS!
  • by epp_b (944299) on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:23PM (#15733847)
    Several airlines have just announced that they are banning the in-flight use of Dell laptops.
  • lithium power (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I have pretty extensive experience with lithium and lithium ion/polymer/prismatic(and otherwise)/LIFn cells)

    They are dangerous. Lithium polymers can create an extremely high temp fire if shorted, dunked in water, etc. Lithium ions can (and will) explode if shorted in water or otherwise. The case on it can't expand like the lithium polymers wrapping which allows it to burn instead of turn into a crappy grenade.

    Lithium cells (like the new 1.5v cells out for cameras and other digital technologies) don't have a
  • by Locutus (9039) on Monday July 17, 2006 @05:34PM (#15733932)
    That is most likely what they'll let RECHARGEABLE Li batteries onboard but not full capacity non-rechargeable Li batteries. With all the ways the batteries can be damaged before they're put on the planes, there's too much of a risk of fire from latent fires due to damaged cells.

    This is also why there aren't lots of fires in the backrooms of computer stores. All those laptops not only don't have charged batteries but they've probably already been inspected for damaged packaging.

    Atleast that's my theory.

    LoB
     
  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Monday July 17, 2006 @06:00PM (#15734119) Journal
    One of the reasons I submitted this story is that I just bought a house that's at roughly 3500 meters (11,000 feet) elevation. UPS is shipping jillions of batteries, and obviously this isn't THAT common, but I still wonder about me taking up my laptop, and my friends taking up theirs. I wonder even more about flying up there in a Cessna -- not much higher altitude, but where's the knee of the safe/explode curve? (Is it a curve? or is it linear with altitude? or logarithmic, given that's how pressure drops? I'd expect it'd drop off with temperature, but if that's true, temperature drops somewhat faster than air pressure, so why are these happening at all?)
    With all that said, it's unsettling that a battery has *anything* going on in it when it's just sitting there in a brown paper box. Do Li-ion batteries have vents, like old lead-acid batteries? Can they evolve gas? (If so, what happens to their chemistry afterwards? it's not like they can recapture hydrogen offgassed: do they lose efficiency over time from this?)
    I know much less about batteries than I thought I did.
    • I don't think the modest pressure drop (from 14.7 psi at sea level to 9.5 psi at 3500 m) is going to cause accidents. I think the only reason the airplane angle is important in these situations is that the accident is happening in an enclosed space filled with flammable materials, and people can't run outside to get away from the smoke or call the FD to put out the flames, et cetera.

      Lead-acid batteries can produce hydrogen by electrolysis of the water in them when they are charged. If I had to guess, I'd
      • by Kombat (93720)
        I don't think the modest pressure drop (from 14.7 psi at sea level to 9.5 psi at 3500 m) is going to cause accidents.

        I don't know if I'd categorize that as a "modest" drop. That's 1/3 of an atmosphere. That's low enough pressure to manifest measurable, visible symptoms of hypoxia in humans not accustomed to the high altitude. Airplanes are forbidden from flying above 10,500 MSL for more than 30 minutes without carrying oxygen. Living at 11,000 full time would definitely affect sea-level folk, and I don'
    • Actually, I would be much more worried about the hard disk. Most HDDs have a design spec limit of 10000 feet of elevation, because the head may not maintain desired clearance above the platter at higher altitudes. So check your hard drive specs before you boot that puppy up...
  • Totally Possible... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by THESuperShawn (764971) on Monday July 17, 2006 @06:03PM (#15734132)
    Just look at any R/C Forum or wbe site (or battery university) for horror stories about these batteries. I use them, but as soon as I see any bulging or swelling of a pack I get rid of it. I personally know a guy who lost his entire garage (and part of his house) from a fire during recharging (you should never leave them un-attended).

    They are great batteries that are light with lots of power, but they are quite finicky. I always charge as slow as possible and use a temp probe to shut everything down if it gets too hot.

    All that being said, I wonder how they could ignite if they are not in a charge or discharge (besides normal dishcharge as they sit unused) while in a cargo hold. I would think (no, I did not RTFA but hey this is Slashdot) they would need to be mutilated or highly disturbed in some way to catch fire.
  • by NeuroManson (214835) on Monday July 17, 2006 @06:17PM (#15734200) Homepage
    It makes one wonder why everyone's touting electric/hybrid vehicles that run off of li-ion or polymer batteries. If people (erroneously) thought that hydrogen cars would do a Hindenberg in their driveway, wait til they find out about this.
  • I know I've seen it written here before, but there's an old chemistry saw that certainly rings true.

    "The are two types of chemists: Those who have never worked with Lithium, and those who are scared to death of it."
  • Li-Poly batteries are used a lot in RC aircraft. Here is a link to a page about LiPo fires (with a link to some videos) Lipo Fire info [rcgroups.com].

    Lipos are used a lot in RC flying, but you have to be very careful with them. If they short, they will start to buldge a bit, and can catch fire. Also, LiPos can only be discharged so far, until they are useless (I believe under the 3.7 volt level). If you are interested about rechargable batteries, RC people are the ones to look at. (that includes NIMH, NICD, and L
  • by Macgrrl (762836) on Monday July 17, 2006 @09:58PM (#15735128)

    Back around 1992, I used to work for a Kodak dealer who sold the Kodak DSC200 series digital cameras. They were a Nikon 35mm camera body with a digital film back and Li based rechargable battery pack.

    My boss was on a client site setting up to run a demo, these cameras cost AU$30k each, it was sitting on a counter waiting to be hooked up when it burst into flames.

    While I wasn't present for the actual fire, I did see the melted unit afterward when packing it to be sent back to Rochester for tests.

    This has been a *known* issue for a very long time.

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