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On January 31, 2018, a cell phone charger pack burst into flames on a Russian airplane, setting fire to a chair and causing thick smoke to fill the cabin.

Man holding external battery

Luckily the plane had already landed and no one was injured. The cause of the fire was identified as the Li-ion batteries in the charger pack, an increasingly common occurrence. In 2017, the US Federal Aviation Authority reported 46 similar incidences, up from 31 in 2016. This begs the questions: why are these batteries so dangerous, and what can be done to prevent accidents?

Li-ion battery related issues have become familiar over the last few years. While there is no single recognized cause for ignition in Li-ion batteries, common themes have been associated with these incidents.

One common theme linking these incidents has been the use of unapproved or aftermarket batteries. It has become easy to purchase backup batteries from third party operatives via the internet. These batteries may not, however, have the necessary third-party certification, and some may even be counterfeit. These batteries may lack the testing and verification required to ensure that they are properly manufactured and meet all current standards and safety regulations. Even if the battery is manufactured to a safe standard, it may not be certified for use with the intended device and will therefore be unsafe.

Manufacturing is another common theme associated with incidents of Li-ion battery combustion. Most manufacturers of electronic devices use a supplier to provide the Li-ion batteries they use. The device manufacturer needs to ensure the battery manufacturer maintains robust quality control systems to ensure the battery is properly constructed, is not contaminated, and is stored and shipped at the proper temperatures. Rigorous monitoring needs to be maintained along the whole supply chain to ensure cells and other components adhere to appropriate safety standards.

Preventing Li-ion Battery Issues: The End-User

End-users can protect themselves and their property with a few simple steps:

  1. Don’t overcharge the battery
  2. Don’t use aftermarket/uncertified chargers, cords or batteries with devices. Aftermarket cords can overcharge your battery and may not be made with proper insulation. This may result in a fire hazard while charging a device
  3. Don’t allow Li-ion batteries to come in contact with coins, keys or other metal objects

Preventing Li-ion Battery Issues: Manufacturers

For device manufacturers, the solutions are not always as easy, but these simple rules should help mitigate against some of the common risks:

  1. Use only certified cells and batteries:
    • Li-ion battery cells should be certified to UL 1642 & UL 62133
    • Li-ion battery packs should be certified to UL 2054 & UL 62133
  2. Make sure proper due diligence is followed and perform safety and protocol testing on the battery and in your device. Remember: different devices will have different battery demands
  3. When using a Li-ion battery supplier, perform regular onsite inspections of the facility and the process. This will help mitigate against the risk of suppliers changing materials and processes without notifying the customer. If this does happen, it will compromise the integrity of the battery and the device it is fueling

Li-ion batteries are a major part of our daily lives. The increasing importance and proliferation of electrical devices powered by Li-ion batteries means they will not be phased out in the near future. Device and battery manufacturers therefore need to take the initiative and work together to find ways to stop battery-related accidents.

SGS Solutions: Battery Testing Services

With five battery laboratories around the world – in Atlanta (USA), Taipei (Taiwan), Munich (Germany), Shenzhen and Shanghai (China) – SGS maintains the largest cell and battery testing capability in the world. We offer testing against over 34 battery specific standards within our ISO 12025 scope, with twelve battery specific standards included in our IECEE CB Scheme.

For device manufacturers wishing to ensure standards are maintained by their suppliers, SGS also offers onsite auditing services to guarantee the quality of the battery being supplied. This service is available around the world, providing peace-of-mind to device manufacturers concerning the safety of their Li-ion battery products.

For more information on how SGS can help you mitigate against the risk of substandard Li-ion batteries, please visit SGS Battery Testing Services or contact:

Douglas Czerwonka
Technical Manager
CRS Electrical & Electronics
SGS North America Inc
Suwanee Laboratory
t: +1 201-508-3000