Lithium-ion Batteries: Once Popular Power Source Goes Up in Smoke

posted on:
November 3, 2016

William Sutton

A 14-year-old girl suffered burns on her face, arm and leg while riding an attraction at the Universal Orlando amusement park when another passenger’s e-cigarette exploded. A Southwest Flight was evacuated while on the runway after a passenger’s replacement Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone burst into flames inside the plane’s cabin. An 8-year-old’s bedroom was set ablaze when her brand-new hoverboard exploded after she plugged it in to charge for the first time.

In the past few months, there have been additional high-profile incidents of spontaneously combusting devices. The culprit behind these fiery and exploding devices are the lithium-ion batteries that power them.

Lithium-ion batteries were introduced to the market in the early 1990s when they first appeared in hand-held video cameras. Now, the batteries are used to power just about everything. They are extremely popular because they charge faster, last longer, and have a higher power density for more battery life than traditional battery technology. The batteries work by moving lithium particles between a negative and positive electrode to charge and discharge – creating a certain amount of heat.

A faulty manufacturing process can result in at least two situations where a lithium-ion battery could catch fire or explode. First, thermal runaway or overheating occurs when a lithium-ion battery is defective and when the heat generated by the charging and discharging ignites the electrolytes. This will cause a fire or explosion.

Second, if a lithium-ion battery’s outside shell or the barrier separating the electrodes is defective, the battery is susceptible to puncture or tear, which can cause a short circuit to happen when positive and negative electrodes touch. The instant electrical discharge from the short circuit can be explosive.

Although businesses and researchers continue exploring new battery technologies, these lithium-ion batteries remain the standard.

If you would like more information about injuries related to lithium-ion batteries, you can contact Will Sutton, a lawyer in Toxic Torts Section. He can be reached at 800-898-2034 or by email at

Orlando Sentinel
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U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
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