In today’s technology-driven world, lithium-ion batteries play a crucial role in powering our smartphones, laptops, and other portable electronic devices.
However, with this widespread reliance on these energy sources comes a lesser-known, yet significant, risk: battery swelling. This phenomenon can lead to hazardous situations, device damage, and even explosions.
In this article, we will explore the causes of battery swelling, how to detect it, and preventative measures that can be taken to ensure the safety and longevity of your devices.
Why do lithium-ion batteries swell?
Lithium-ion batteries can swell due to manufacturing defects or user misuse. In case of a manufacturing defect, the battery may experience an excess current flow during the charging process, which can result in the formation of gas and heat buildup within the battery cell. The gasses formed are primarily a combination of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. This occurs due to the breakdown of the electrolyte solvents, such as ethylene carbonate and dimethyl carbonate, in the presence of excessive heat or overcharging. The accumulation of these gasses within the sealed battery casing leads to the physical expansion of the battery.
Other factors contributing to the swelling of lithium-ion batteries include overcharging, deep discharge, natural aging, physical stress, and exposure to extreme heat. Overcharging and deep discharge can cause the breakdown of lithium-ion intercalation compounds in the cathode and anode materials, leading to the production of additional gasses. The natural aging process of the battery results in the gradual degradation of the electrolyte and electrode materials, which can cause a build-up of gasses and subsequent swelling. Physical stress or damage to the battery may result in the deformation of the internal components, allowing for the internal short circuiting, and consequently, the generation of heat and gas. Exposure to extreme heat can cause thermal runaway, a self-sustaining chemical reaction that leads to rapid temperature increases, gas generation, and battery swelling.
Detecting a swollen battery
Swollen batteries are noticeable by their changing shape.
Devices may exhibit a bulge, making it difficult to lay flat. Laptop keyboards may also become difficult to use. To confirm, remove the battery and check for a rounded or puffy appearance. If unsure, seek professional assistance.
Additional Reading: iPhone Battery Health: What You Need to Know
Risks of swollen batteries
Swollen batteries pose significant risks, containing hazardous chemicals that can cause serious injury. Punctured or exposed to high temperatures, these batteries can release harmful fumes. Additionally, they can damage the device they’re in.
Additional Reading: Maximizing Your iPhone’s Battery Settings
Can swollen batteries explode?
Yes, swollen batteries can indeed explode under certain conditions, primarily due to the release of specific gasses and the associated chemical reactions within the battery. When subjected to excessive use, high temperatures, short circuits, or improper removal, a swollen battery may experience a phenomenon known as “thermal runaway.” This occurs when the temperature within the battery increases uncontrollably, leading to a chain reaction that exacerbates the issue.
A key factor contributing to the explosion of swollen batteries is the generation and buildup of gasses, such as hydrogen and oxygen, within the battery’s casing. This occurs as a result of electrolyte decomposition, which takes place when the battery is exposed to high temperatures or overcharged. The accumulation of these gasses creates pressure inside the battery casing, which can ultimately cause the casing to rupture, resulting in a rapid release of energy and an explosion.
Furthermore, when a swollen battery is punctured or mechanically damaged, the volatile contents within the battery, including the electrolyte, can come into contact with air, water, or other reactive materials, potentially triggering a violent exothermic reaction. This can lead to the emission of hazardous gasses, such as hydrogen fluoride, which can pose significant risks to human health and the environment.
Using a swollen battery
Using a device with a swollen battery is unsafe, posing a risk of explosion and damage to the device. Replace the battery immediately.
Fixing a swollen battery
Swollen batteries cannot be repaired; they must be replaced. Do not attempt to fix a swollen battery by placing it in a freezer, as this can cause further damage.
Handling a swollen battery
If your battery is swollen, shut down the device and do not charge or turn it back on. Seek professional help or follow these safety measures when removing the battery:
- Work in a well-ventilated area.
- Wear safety gloves and goggles.
- Use blunt, long tongs to lift the damaged battery.
- Avoid puncturing or squeezing the battery.
- Prepare a fireproof container for storage.
Use the proper charger
Utilize genuine chargers specifically designed for your device to ensure optimal charging performance. Genuine chargers are engineered to comply with the manufacturer’s specifications, providing the appropriate voltage, current, and charging algorithm tailored to the battery chemistry and capacity. In contrast, inexpensive aftermarket chargers, commonly found at gas stations or convenience stores, may not adhere to these specifications, leading to potential charging inefficiencies or inconsistencies.
Non-genuine chargers may deliver an incorrect or unstable voltage, causing overcharging or undercharging, which can result in accelerated degradation of the battery’s electrode materials and electrolyte. Moreover, the absence of a proper charging algorithm or inadequate thermal management may lead to excessive heat generation, increasing the risk of thermal runaway and subsequent battery swelling or damage. By using a genuine charger, you ensure the safe and efficient charging of your device’s battery, thereby prolonging its lifespan and avoiding unnecessary expenses due to premature battery replacement.
While a cheap charger may seem like an attractive, cost-effective option at first glance, its long-term financial implications can far outweigh the initial savings.
The use of a non-genuine charger can result in several negative consequences that lead to higher costs over time.
- Shortened battery lifespan: Inexpensive chargers may not adhere to the manufacturer’s specifications, leading to improper charging, which can cause accelerated degradation of the battery’s electrode materials and electrolyte. As a result, the battery’s lifespan is significantly reduced, necessitating more frequent battery replacements and increasing costs.
- Potential device damage: A cheap charger may deliver an incorrect or unstable voltage, which can not only damage the battery but also harm the delicate internal circuitry of the device. Repairing or replacing components within the device can be expensive and time-consuming.
- Decreased performance: A suboptimal charging process can impact the overall performance of your device. You may experience decreased battery life, slower processing speeds, or erratic behavior, which can negatively affect your productivity and user experience.
- Safety hazards: Low-quality chargers may lack essential safety features, such as overcharge protection, short-circuit protection, and temperature monitoring. This increases the risk of battery swelling, thermal runaway, or even fires and explosions, posing a threat to both the user and their surroundings. The costs associated with addressing safety hazards or replacing damaged property can be substantial.
By investing in a genuine charger upfront, you not only ensure the safe and efficient charging of your device’s battery but also protect the device itself, prolong its lifespan, and maintain optimal performance. The initial cost of a genuine charger is offset by the long-term savings that come from avoiding battery replacements, device repairs, and potential safety hazards.
Understanding and addressing the issue of battery swelling in lithium-ion batteries is essential for maintaining the safety and optimal performance of our electronic devices. By being aware of the signs of a swollen battery, practicing proper handling and removal techniques, and taking necessary precautions to prevent swelling, you can protect your devices, yourself, and those around you from potential harm. As we continue to rely on these batteries to power our lives, staying informed and proactive about battery health will become increasingly important to ensure a seamless and safe user experience.