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Lithium-Ion Batteries Linked to Airplane Fires

timothy posted about 8 years ago | from the mine-keep-not-exploding dept.

244

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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244 comments

squished? (2, Interesting)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | about 8 years ago | (#15733598)

is squishing a lithium ion battery enough to make it catch fire?

Re:squished? (2, Interesting)

jabber (13196) | about 8 years ago | (#15733618)

My thought would be depressurization or freezing.

Re:squished? (4, Interesting)

ResidntGeek (772730) | about 8 years ago | (#15733646)

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? (5, Informative)

treeves (963993) | about 8 years ago | (#15733664)

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

Re:squished? (2, Informative)

tomhudson (43916) | about 8 years ago | (#15733696)

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? (2, Interesting)

johnny cashed (590023) | about 8 years ago | (#15733739)

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? (3, Informative)

tomhudson (43916) | about 8 years ago | (#15733819)

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? (3, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 8 years ago | (#15733953)

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? (4, Interesting)

Directrix1 (157787) | about 8 years ago | (#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? (2, Interesting)

s13g3 (110658) | about 8 years ago | (#15734078)

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 finally managed to remove the thing, I discovered a bulge in the plastic on the back of the battery, and on removing the battery, the foil casing on the underside swelled out, making the battery nearly twice it's size. I, too, dropped the battery into a pyrex container with a lid, and then that into a ceramic jar (I have an 50's era college chemistry set that came in very handy there... The s/o finally quit complaining for me to throw it out that night ^.^).

Re:squished? (1)

treeves (963993) | about 8 years ago | (#15733765)

Heck, I've (inadvertently - of course) done that with NiMH batteries and gotten a "hot pocket" real quick!

litte kid asks.. "how did you loose your leg" (2, Funny)

absinthminded64 (883630) | about 8 years ago | (#15733828)

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. .

Re:litte kid asks.. "how did you loose your leg" (2, Funny)

tomhudson (43916) | about 8 years ago | (#15734008)

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: Oh, you're an oakie? Sorry, just stick a cherry bomb in a beer can and count to 10. It works.

Later that day ... Oakie has his buddy over, explains how the docs all told him the same thing.

Billy-Bod: Youy gonna try it?
Oakie: Might as well ...

(Oakie puts lit cherry bomb in tin can, holds can in one hand, starts counting on his fingers with the other hand ..
1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... 5 ...

(runs out of fingers, holds tin can between thighs so he can continue counting ...)

Re:squished? (1)

deathy_epl+ccs (896747) | about 8 years ago | (#15734031)

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.

Or try falling in a river (1)

Flying pig (925874) | about 8 years ago | (#15734099)

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.

Re:squished? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733698)

Have you seen what a punctured lipoly battery does?! It's a thermal party!

Re:squished? (1)

ResidntGeek (772730) | about 8 years ago | (#15733716)

Shit, you're right. I thought Lithium-ion batteries had lithium metal. My bad.

Re:squished? (1)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | about 8 years ago | (#15733906)

Many lithium compuounds, particularily the hydrides are pyrophoric and/or exothermically react with water.

Re:squished? (1)

Amouth (879122) | about 8 years ago | (#15733894)

"(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)

Re:squished? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733675)

Nawwww ...
It's part of the pile stuff theories. When enough "stuff" accumulates, spontaneous "stuff" happens.

Re:squished? (1)

kfg (145172) | about 8 years ago | (#15733756)

When enough "stuff" accumulates, spontaneous "stuff" happens.

WWI in a nutshell.

KFG

Re:squished? (1)

markana (152984) | about 8 years ago | (#15733777)

Not to mention the Manhattan Project....

or Chernobyl...

FIRESTORM POST!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733605)

fr1st p0st first post nyah nyah nyah

Yes!!! (-1, Offtopic)

PenisLands (930247) | about 8 years ago | (#15733616)

First post!

Re:Yes!!! (0, Troll)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | about 8 years ago | (#15733879)

you have been penis owned!!

Re:Yes!!! (0, Offtopic)

Captain Splendid (673276) | about 8 years ago | (#15733986)

Quick tip: The reason a lot of FPs are done by ACs is due to the fact that it can quite easily fail, and provide embarrasment (as you can now see). So don't forget that 'Post as AC' checkbox next time, k?

Environmental stress (5, Informative)

morcheeba (260908) | about 8 years ago | (#15733620)

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.

Re:Environmental stress (4, Informative)

schnikies79 (788746) | about 8 years ago | (#15733783)

The main cargo area on UPS jets has standard cabin pressure. The lower cargo areas on select planes are not pressurized.

Re:Environmental stress (1)

chrisfrd (989458) | about 8 years ago | (#15734084)

This is NOT true. ALL areas of an aircraft are pressurised.The floor of a plane is not sealed, as if it were (a large, flat surface) it would EXPLODE! Lower holds are used to carry pets and such - I don't think they would live at FL 300. The only parts of an aircrafts airframe that isn't pressurised are the wheel wells and the condensor side of the air-conditioning units. The wings aren't pressurised by cabin pressure (but they are pressurised by pumps to get the fuel out.

Re:Environmental stress (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | about 8 years ago | (#15734145)

I should have been more specific. You're correct that all the cargo areas on a jet are pressurized. What I meant by select aircraft was the small, prop-driven single and dual-engine four-passenger planes that they use from time to time. The cargo area on them is literally a metal box attached on the belly with a hinged door that is in no-way air tight. They don't fly at an altitude where it would matter.

Re:Environmental stress (1)

morcheeba (260908) | about 8 years ago | (#15734126)

Good point. That makes sense, because the jet was probably designed to operate with the skin under a little tension.

Cabins are still pressurized to 8000 feet [ista.org] , which is 70% of the pressure [wikipedia.org] at sea level. It's still 4.4 psi.

Too slow? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733625)

Why does it take several months for the FAA to find the source of the fire, when firefighters track down the offending source in days?

Re:Too slow? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733695)

Never apply logic to the real world, it will only disappoint you!

Re:Too slow? (5, Informative)

cat6509 (887285) | about 8 years ago | (#15733701)

It is the NTSB that researches things like this, not the FAA per se. They are very methodical and precise with their work. They are slow to publish thier findings, this doesn't mean they are slow to identify the cause, just very carefull that they have come to the correct conclusion. Check out the NTSB aircraft accident database, this contains detail over every aircraft accident reasearched by them for several decades ( 1962 ) http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/query.asp [ntsb.gov]

Re:Too slow? (1)

scdeimos (632778) | about 8 years ago | (#15733729)

When you've got hundreds of miles of Kapton wire in the average cargo plane the point of ignition could be anywhere - especially if the plane is now dispersed over many square miles of crash site.

Nope, it happens in plenty of places (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Nope, it happens in plenty of places (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733823)

Flashlight geeks?

Where on the geek scale does *that* fit?

Re:Nope, it happens in plenty of places (3, Funny)

rco3 (198978) | about 8 years ago | (#15733864)

"Flashlight geeks?

Where on the geek scale does *that* fit?
"

Oh, they're some of the brightest geeks you'll find.

Re:Nope, it happens in plenty of places (1)

Andrew Kismet (955764) | about 8 years ago | (#15733882)

It doesn't. I think of them in the same way as I think of -1 Kelvin.

Re:Nope, it happens in plenty of places (5, Informative)

dpaton.net (199423) | about 8 years ago | (#15733924)

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.

Cheap batteries, mixed brands (1)

Rosyna (80334) | about 8 years ago | (#15733955)

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 another, the charge will flow into the empty cell possibly causing overheating. At least that's what I am getting from wikipedia [wikipedia.org] . If the circuitry on the cells is cheap, overheating can be very likely.

So I wouldn't become all super paranoid over a few stories like this as it almost always involves cheap batteries or mixing of cells (which may be from using cheap batteries or "Whatever is around the house" in the first flashlight example). After all, you'll almost certainly hear about EVERY single failure but you never hear about the batteries performing their job correctly because when you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all.

The question I'm more interested in is.... (2, Interesting)

LordPhantom (763327) | about 8 years ago | (#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....

Re:The question I'm more interested in is.... (3, Interesting)

autocracy (192714) | about 8 years ago | (#15733728)

Yes, and every time I forget to stash my Swiss army knife in my luggage... or anything else stupid that gets confiscated, I'm rolling my eyes while I think of the two lithium ion batteries I'm bringing abord and how nastily they'd react with water.

False sense of security? Hell yes.

Re:The question I'm more interested in is.... (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 8 years ago | (#15733768)

A false sense of security is better than no sense of security at all. Think of the children!

(I no longer carry a pocket knife.)

Re:The question I'm more interested in is.... (1)

stevesliva (648202) | about 8 years ago | (#15734019)

or anything else stupid that gets confiscated
Such as camping stoves or lanterns without the butane/propane canisters attached. Friggin TSA idiots.

Re:The question I'm more interested in is.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733733)

possibly. CR123A batteries contain nearly as much "bang" in them as dynamite.

http://www.molalla.net/~leeper/lithexpl.pdf [molalla.net]

Re:The question I'm more interested in is.... (1)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | about 8 years ago | (#15733948)

drop them on lebanon

UPS = Ooops (4, Interesting)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | about 8 years ago | (#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 (4, Informative)

CheddarHead (811916) | about 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:UPS = Ooops (1)

steveo777 (183629) | about 8 years ago | (#15733809)

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 because they don't always end up on top. We didn't try to damage anything, but we didn't care either.
*shrugs*

Re:UPS = Ooops (3, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 8 years ago | (#15733991)

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 (2, Interesting)

mnmn (145599) | about 8 years ago | (#15733846)

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.

Re:UPS = Ooops (1)

suffe (72090) | about 8 years ago | (#15733976)

Clearly you haven't been to my computer store.

FAA is inventing stuff to limit laptop use! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733642)

Impossible! Why would the batteries not catch fire in a store, yet catch fire on an airplane??? The FAA is nuts!

Clearly it couldn't be physical battery damage, because shipping things almost never results in damage. And clearly it couldn't be due to air pressure related leaks, because airplanes are pressurized at 1 atmosphere.

Right? Isn't the FAA crazy for thinking of such nonsense?

Re:FAA is inventing stuff to limit laptop use! (1)

tomhudson (43916) | about 8 years ago | (#15733741)

They're talking about non-rechargeable batteries - and some of them WILL fail before they reach the store. Internal shorts (say from vibration) aren't as likely, and won't cause as much localized heat buildup sitting in an open-air display as the would densely packed in a container on an airplane.

Pressure? (2, Interesting)

reality-bytes (119275) | about 8 years ago | (#15733643)

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?

Re:Pressure? (1)

terevos (148651) | about 8 years ago | (#15733708)

For a well produced battery, I highly doubt that even the air pressure of 33,000ft would do anything to it.

But it seems there have been some poorly produced batteries lately. Maybe one of those rare instances just happened to be on that plane and just happened to be triggered by either the flight, the handling, or perhaps even the air pressure change. But my bet is on the handling or the rigors of the flight rather than the simple air pressure change.

Close Call... (2, Funny)

creimer (824291) | about 8 years ago | (#15733659)

The good news is that it wasn't an exploding MacBook.

Re:Close Call... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15734032)

Or a Dell.

sometimes a roll of the dice (1)

virchull (963203) | about 8 years ago | (#15733660)

Manufacturing errors can cause a lithium ion battery to explode. Reputable manufacturers do tests to screen out defectives, but on rare occasions, test errors occur and a bad battery can sneak through.

tick...tick...tick... (1)

Clancie (678344) | about 8 years ago | (#15733661)

...just waiting on the announcement that notebook computers, portable DVD players, i-pods and cell phones have been banned from commercial aircraft.

Better yet, banned from cargo. (1)

Hamster Lover (558288) | about 8 years ago | (#15733712)

Don't tell me you actually check these items, do you? If they allowed these items only as carry-on that would eliminate a lot of baggage theft, methinks, and also allow for the use of safety equipment if there is a fire. Two problems solved in one stroke.

Re:tick...tick...tick... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733826)

Ban everything except naked humans.

Safety at all costs!

Warning... (4, Funny)

CaseM (746707) | about 8 years ago | (#15733679)

Oxygen linked to fires...time to take ACTION!!

Yeah! (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | about 8 years ago | (#15733738)

You can start by not breathing anymore. ;)

Re:Yeah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733799)

No! Instead breathe as much as possible to convert all the available air to carbon dioxide, thereby supressing any fires before the get started.

Re:Yeah! (1)

Cornflake917 (515940) | about 8 years ago | (#15733979)

Umm, breathing uses oxygen and produces carbon dioxide. So the action to take is to hyper-ventalate!

Re:Warning... (1)

RingDev (879105) | about 8 years ago | (#15733794)

Dihydrogen-Monoxide can help prevent those issues, but it is responsible for thousands of deaths every year!

http://www.dhmo.org/facts.html [dhmo.org]

-Rick

Re:Warning... (1)

Thuktun (221615) | about 8 years ago | (#15733908)

Oxygen is one of the MAIN COMPONENTS of the DEADLY COMPOUND known as DIHIDROGEN MONOXIDE! [dhmo.org] Why hasn't our government BANNED these substances yet?!

Re:Warning... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733951)

Lithium, Magnesium* , Sodium -- there's a nice pyro animated GIF over here [uni-siegen.de] , and if you don't mind having your MPEG downloads [uni-siegen.de] monitored at work ... they'll see you are a terrorist downloader (foreign link too!) instead of just an ordinary porn downloader

* FYI, the support frame on notebooks is magnesium

Re:Warning... (1)

DamnStupidElf (649844) | about 8 years ago | (#15734151)

"Dioxide is everywhere, in your house, in your car, in your children's lungs! Dioxide has a bluish color in liquid or solid form, but is found in the gaseous state in nature. It is highly flammable (with suitable reducer), lethal in high concentrations, and often combines with other trace elements to form dihydrogen monoxide, trioxide, and other dangerous substances!"

They are charged (1)

Solder Fumes (797270) | about 8 years ago | (#15733684)

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.

Spontaneous Lithium Battery Fires (3, Informative)

deathcow (455995) | about 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Spontaneous Lithium Battery Fires (1)

twiddlingbits (707452) | about 8 years ago | (#15733795)

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" ?

(Shudder) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733898)

I don't know about anybody else, but if I never read the phrase "robotic bone lengthener" again, it will be too soon.

can you can get lithium out of a lithium battery (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733731)

Lithium is pretty fun too play with - but until this article I didn't realize that apparently it exists inside the batter in it's fun form.


I have a bunch of dead laptop batteries here -- if I open them, can I get the fun stuff out?

Fragile (4, Funny)

Archangel Michael (180766) | about 8 years ago | (#15733745)

UPS Dictionary says .....

Fragile (fra-gil-lay) from early French n. To toss about with reckless abandon.

I smell a fire^w new movie plot (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733770)

How about another airplane disaster movie? I'm thinking of calling it...

"Li-ons on planes"

Incapable of extinguishing? (1)

celardore (844933) | about 8 years ago | (#15733775)

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??

Re:Incapable of extinguishing? (3, Informative)

HaloZero (610207) | about 8 years ago | (#15733813)

* 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.

Re:Incapable of extinguishing? (1)

ihaddsl (772965) | about 8 years ago | (#15733884)

Do not use CO2 or Halon directly on a battery fire as the exposed surface of the contained lithium may react with these materials.


what's worse is the cargo fire supression system is Halon, which will not extinguish the fire, and may lead to other bad things happening.

Of course in the passenger cabin Halon is not used, but as you pointed out, the other standard fire extingushing methods (water & CO2) don't work effectively.

Re:Incapable of extinguishing? (0)

Cobralisk (666114) | about 8 years ago | (#15733886)

Water may be used to extinguish packaging fires if batteries have not ruptured; water is not an effective extinguishing agent for a battery fire.
Please read the contents of your links before you post them.

Jackass.

Re:Incapable of extinguishing? (3, Informative)

Carnildo (712617) | about 8 years ago | (#15733902)

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.

Uh... "Vent with Flame" anyone? (4, Informative)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 8 years ago | (#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").

Re:Uh... "Vent with Flame" anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733927)

Actually, lion (rechargeable) should be stored below 50% charge.

Re:Uh... "Vent with Flame" anyone? (1)

fastgood (714723) | about 8 years ago | (#15734115)

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.

The failure modes of a H-Hg battery is what Monty Python called the 'Holy Hand Grenade' [wikipedia.org] , or what everyone else* calls, the H-Hg.

* Fallout2, Worms3D, BardsTale, Buffy, DukeNukem:TTK, et. al

Exploding fist ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733796)

...don't carry fire suppression equipment capable of extinguishing lithium fires. Neither do they carry equipment to extinguish magnesium or aluminium fires. Fires in metals are generally very hard to deal with due to their very high temperature.
...and what about my watch battery ?? Will they pay for my damaged hand when my watch explodes ?

Airline Surcharges? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733802)

I think the airlines will use this as a way to extract even more from us in flight surcharges.
Imagine surcharges of $10 for an music player ($30 if it's an iPod :lol:), $50 for a laptop, $20 for a digital camera etc. to cover the 'increased cost of safety on board flights.'

Maybe I should shut up and stop giving airlines ideas. ;-)

More on the destructive power of Lithium.... (4, Informative)

Cherita Chen (936355) | about 8 years ago | (#15733807)

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!

Don't worry too much... (1)

anti-human 1 (911677) | about 8 years ago | (#15733843)

Unless you fly cargo planes. Lithium batteries aren't allowed as cargo on passenger aircraft. If your laptop explodes (which would hardly be an aircraft-crippling explosion), there are crew present to act quickly.

In related news... (3, Funny)

epp_b (944299) | about 8 years ago | (#15733847)

Several airlines have just announced that they are banning the in-flight use of Dell laptops.

hmmm... (1)

JayTech (935793) | about 8 years ago | (#15733870)

Could the batteries possibly be manafacturered by the same reliable company as this notebook [theinquirer.net] ? If so, the question is, is it a quantity over quality issue, and could it be happening with more of their product lines?

lithium power (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733872)

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 as high of a current capability as recharable lithiums, but offer extreme weight->low current capacity. They get hot very quickly and catch fire very fast. It is possible that the plastic wrap on the lithiums in question was damaged and shorted on a metal item unless it was dropped. As you see, the cells can be crushed which will cause a fire in very short order.

And by the way, don't put out a battery fire with water or it will short other batteries out and compound the problem. What kinda moron posts that junk?

Lithium technology is safe if treated right. I guarantee you the voltage matching or cutoff circuitry is what lead to the dell laptop issues, and that the lithium cells on the UPS flight were wet or damaged in some other way as to cause the problem. I would hate to see lithium batteries be shipped via HASMAT trucks, but unless we start hiring more people that can read english labels that say "do not wet, fragile" they may have to be...

-JNY

1st, damage/etc in shipping process, THEN fire (2, Insightful)

Locutus (9039) | about 8 years ago | (#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
 

Batteries have been doing this for a long time. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#15733949)

One of the maintenance items on the helicopters I used to fly on (as a passenger) was very careful treatment of the Ni-cad batteries. Someone explained to me that if you didn't look after them properly, they were subject to thermal runaway. The battery would have a certain self discharge current. If that was enough to raise the battery's temperature a bit then the current would increase and warm the battery more which would cause the current to increase which would raise the temperature ... and the battery would explode.

Some battery chemistries are more prone to thermal runaway than others. Lead-acid, for instance, almost never explodes. Ni-cad can explode. Apparently lithium-ion batteries explode. Of course if we wanted to be safe, we would use lead-acid batteries but then they would weigh a lot more. Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer pick.

So what's the altitude/temperature tradeoff? (2, Interesting)

smellsofbikes (890263) | about 8 years ago | (#15734119)

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.

Totally Possible... (2, Interesting)

THESuperShawn (764971) | about 8 years ago | (#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.
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