Incorrect battery handling triggers explosion

January 14, 2016 by Rainer Klose
Violent explosion after the LiPo battery had been heavily overcharged for around 15 minutes.

The major fire in Steckborn on December 21, 2015, was probably started by a lithium polymer battery in a model car, as the Thurgau cantonal police department recently announced. Battery experts from Empa have already conducted overcharging experiments on such batteries and provide tips on how to handle them safely.

Lithium polymer batteries (or LiPo batteries for short) are popular among model makers as high-energy storage devices. However, this type of is also used in smartphones, tablets, cameras and laptops. Now that one of these batteries evidently caused a blaze in Steckborn, which ripped through six buildings in the old town and left 30 people homeless, should we be afraid?

The results of the investigation conducted by the Thurgau cantonal police department were released on January 8, 2016. According to the report, the fire was started by a model battery plugged into a charger on the third floor of one of the buildings. The same day, Empa battery expert Donat Adams gave several interviews to journalists on regional radio and television stations, in which he explained the risks of LiPo batteries.

Only use the matching original charger

LiPo battery on a bed of sand prior to the test.

If handled correctly, the millions of LiPo batteries currently in circulation are harmless, stresses Adams. Normally, every battery-powered device comes with a matching charger, which ought to be used wherever possible to guarantee that the right charging voltage is applied. The battery should also be disconnected from the power as soon as it is fully charged. Cellphones, tablets and laptops are not dangerous, either, says Adams, as the corresponding charging electronics are already integrated in the device.

If a battery is connected to a charger that doesn't switch off on its own, the battery can overheat, expand, give off hot gases and eventually burst into flames, as an impressive clip from Empa reveals: The Empa researchers had deliberately overcharged a commercially available, roughly 50-gram LiPo battery (1,300 mAh) extensively. The ensuing battery explosion could easily have set a room ablaze. Consequently, it is advisable to charge LiPo batteries only on non-flammable surfaces and keep an eye on them while they are plugged in.

Explore further: Built in sensors make lithium-ion batteries safer

Related Stories

Built in sensors make lithium-ion batteries safer

January 7, 2016

Researchers in Penn State's Battery and Energy Storage Technology (BEST) Center are working to make the lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries we use every day safer by inserting sensors to warn users of potential problems inside ...

Huawei shows super-fast battery charging at Japan event

November 16, 2015

Batteries that charge in minutes, the very concept is an attention-grabber. Huawei believes it has taken a real step forward and has videos to demonstrate its successful experiments with super-fast battery charging.

Super environmentally friendly: the 'fool's gold battery'

November 13, 2015

High-performance lithium ion batteries face a major problem: Lithium will eventually start to run out as batteries are deployed in electric cars and stationary storage units. Researchers from Empa and ETH Zurich have now ...

Mushrooms could boost your phone's battery

December 2, 2015

Anyone who uses their smartphone a lot notices that over time, the battery begins to lose steam and needs to be recharged more often. And the last thing you want is for your phone to run out of juice when you need it most.

Recommended for you

Volumetric 3-D printing builds on need for speed

December 11, 2017

While additive manufacturing (AM), commonly known as 3-D printing, is enabling engineers and scientists to build parts in configurations and designs never before possible, the impact of the technology has been limited by ...

Tech titans ramp up tools to win over children

December 10, 2017

From smartphone messaging tailored for tikes to computers for classrooms, technology titans are weaving their way into childhoods to form lifelong bonds, raising hackles of advocacy groups.

Mapping out a biorobotic future  

December 8, 2017

You might not think a research area as detailed, technically advanced and futuristic as building robots with living materials would need help getting organized, but that's precisely what Vickie Webster-Wood and a team from ...

Lyft puts driverless cars to work in Boston

December 6, 2017

Lyft on Wednesday began rolling out self-driving cars with users of the smartphone-summoned ride service in Boston in a project with technology partner nuTonomy.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2016
Yeah...? It's well known that LiPO batteries have this property. As the article says, use the correct charger to charge the battery. Easy enough.

Incidentally, this is why there are so many battery charger management ICs on the market. This is an already-solved problem, with cheap and reliable solutions.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.