Whether you’re a mobile device owner, a flashlight aficionado or one of the millions of people around the world living The Vape Life, lithium-ion batteries are an inescapable part of your existence. The fact that lithium-ion batteries store so much energy is what enables your smartphone to last all day without a recharge even though it’s roughly equivalent to a full-fledged computer in power.
Lithium-ion batteries are so ubiquitous and in so many consumer devices, though, that it’s easy to allow yourself to be lulled into thinking that they’re as safe and innocuous as disposable alkaline batteries. That, however, isn’t the case at all. Lithium-ion batteries are safe to use because they’re paired with safety circuity that automatically monitors the cells. The safety circuitry for a lithium-ion battery ensures that the battery’s voltage and temperature remain within the correct ranges and that an unsafe load isn’t placed on the battery.
Even with automatic safety circuitry, though, it’s still possible to use a lithium-ion battery under conditions that are inherently unsafe. If that happens, it’s a serious potential issue. A lithium-ion battery that’s overloaded can vent hot gas and trigger an uncontrollable chemical fire. It’s this article’s goal to help prevent that from happening. To ensure that you always use your lithium-ion batteries and battery-powered devices in the safest way possible, these are the 7 things you should and shouldn’t do.
DO: Charge Your Batteries Only with Manufacturer-Recommended Hardware
A battery-powered device can be designed to charge within a wide range of possible wattages and amperages. A modern iPhone can go from a completely dead battery to a 50-percent charge in about a half hour, for instance – but only if you use Apple’s 20-watt wall adapter. A more run-of-the-mill product, on the other hand – like a rechargeable pocket flashlight – is probably designed for charging at a rate no faster than 5 watts.
A device designed for 5-watt charging probably can’t handle the extra heat that would be generated in the process of charging at four times the normal rate, and that’s exactly the kind of situation that can lead to an adverse event. Charge your devices and batteries only with the hardware recommended by the manufacturer; don’t mix and match charging equipment.
DON’T: Carry Extra Lithium-Ion Batteries in Your Pocket
The 18650 battery is a very common removable lithium-ion cell that’s used for a variety of consumer devices such as flashlights and vape mods. This type of battery looks a bit like an oversized AA battery, and that leads some people to do exactly what they’d do with their extra AA batteries – they carry them in their pockets. The last thing you would ever want to do, however, is carry spare lithium-ion batteries in your pocket. If the batteries’ terminals touch other metal objects such as coins or keys, a short circuit can occur. If you need to transport extra lithium-ion batteries, transport them only in a padded carrier.
DO: Use Married Pairs in Dual-Battery Devices
Some high-draw devices have the ability to use two lithium-ion battery cells for double the battery life. When you use a dual-battery device, you should use your batteries only in married pairs. The batteries should be the same model from the same manufacturer. They should be identical in age, and you should always use and charge them at the same time. When batteries are used in unmatched pairs, the stronger battery will attempt to charge the weaker one. That accelerates the degradation of the weaker battery, which can lead to an unsafe load being pushed through the degraded battery.
DON’T: Leave Batteries or Battery-Powered Devices in Your Car
Lithium-ion batteries are always happiest within a temperature range equivalent to that of a cool room. Batteries release heat when they’re being used or charged. Being in a cool environment helps to ensure that the excess heat will dissipate quickly. If you leave your car parked in the sun on an 85-degree day, the temperature of the car’s cabin can reach 115 degrees in just 30 minutes. That’s dangerously close to the maximum safe temperature for a lithium-ion battery. Don’t ever store batteries or battery-powered devices in your car.
DO: Charge Batteries When You’re Awake and Nearby
The most convenient time to recharge your battery-powered devices is overnight, while you’re sleeping. That way, all of your gadgets will be powered up and ready to go when you wake up in the morning. Unfortunately, though, that’s not a safe way to charge your devices because there is a remote possibility that a battery can overheat even under the best possible conditions. When a battery is about to enter thermal runaway, there’s often a warning sign such as a sound or an unpleasant smell. In that case, you can potentially prevent a fire by acting quickly and cutting power to the device. You should always charge your devices while you’re nearby, alert and ready to respond if a problem occurs.
DON’T: Use Lithium-Ion Batteries with Visible Damage or Deformation
Have you ever replaced the battery in an older computer or phone and found that the old battery appeared to be bulging? Swelling is a sign of permanent chemical changes that have taken place inside the battery due to age or damage. The battery presents a potential fire risk as this point and is no longer safe to use. If you have a device that’s bulging because of an expanding battery, it’s time to retire the device and dispose of it safely. Other signs of lithium-ion battery damage include dents, warps and tears in the wrapper. Never use a battery with visible signs of damage.
DO: Buy Batteries from a Trusted Seller
If you have a device that uses removable lithium-ion batteries, it is absolutely vital that you always know how old your batteries are and what their capabilities are. It is common for unscrupulous battery sellers to buy old laptops, put new wrappers on the battery cells and resell those batteries as if they were new. You wouldn’t ever want to use an old laptop battery in a high-drain device like a flashlight, so you should always be certain that you’re buying new stock.