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Debunking the Myth behind Exploding Phones

Reasons Behind Exploding Phones

The first time I heard about mobile phones exploding, I giggled. Don’t get me wrong, I very well know the repercussions of the exploding phones. It’s like carrying a ticking time bomb in your pocket. And you don’t even know when it is going to go boom! But the reason I giggled was because I suddenly remembered Harry Potter and his friends playing Exploding Snap. For the uninitiated, Exploding Snap is a wizarding card game in which the cards spontaneously explode during games. But a simple ‘Aguamenti’ spell could douse out the fire in the wizarding world. For muggles however, this situation is pretty serious. (Refer to your Potter Heads to understand what Muggles and Aguamenti is.)

A Series of Unfortunate Events- Samsung version

2016 was a crazy year for Smart Phones. With no audio jacks and a slew incidents of exploding phones across the globe, we witnessed a rapidly changing Smart Phone environment. Speaking about exploding phones, Samsung repeatedly made headlines. At one point, there was some serious contemplation before someone bought a Samsung device from the store. Because you see, one exploding phone is bad. But millions of potentially fire-prone phones are catastrophic. That’s what made Samsung’s massive recall of its otherwise highly-rated Galaxy Note 7 the kind of train wreck saga, that we couldn’t rip our eyes off.
After reports of the Note 7’s combustible battery began popping up worldwide, Samsung promised to replace the device with new ones. But when those began to explode too, airlines and governments made quick work of banning and recalling the phone, making it as good as dead. Samsung even wrote an open letter apologizing for the incident, backed by full-page apology ads.
But even then, Samsung’s nightmare was far from over. The recall had cost the Korean company $3 billion. It also lost its high-flying reputation and sales to Apple as well as Google.

The Lithium Drama

The science behind phone battery fires is actually pretty simple, and fairly well understood. Phones use lithium ion battery packs for their power, and it just so happens that the liquid swimming around inside most lithium ion batteries is highly flammable.
If the battery short-circuits say, by puncturing the incredibly thin sheet of plastic separating the positive and negative sides of the battery — the puncture point becomes the path of least resistance for electricity to flow.
It heats up the flammable liquid electrolyte at that spot. And if the liquid heats up quickly enough, the battery can explode.
This means that no phone is in fact completely safe from exploding. For instance, in 2009, Nokia recalled 46million phone batteries that were at risk of short-circuiting. Similarly, unlucky iPhone owners allegedly suffered nasty burns from exploding devices in 2015 and 2016.

But then why was Samsung making headlines?

According to an unpublished preliminary report sent to Korea’s Agency for Technology and Standards, Samsung had a manufacturing error that “placed pressure on plates contained within battery cells,” which “brought negative and positive poles into contact.”
“The defect was revealed when several contributing factors happened simultaneously, which included sub-optimized assembly process that created variations of tension and exposed electrodes due to insufficient insulation tape,”

What does this mean?

In English, this means that the thin plastic layer that separates the positive and negative sides of the battery got punctured, became the shortest route for electricity to zap across the battery and became a huge fire risk.
This figures that the mobile industry has known for years that lithium ion batteries pose a massive risk. But the electronics industry continues to use the flammable formula because the batteries are so much smaller and lighter than less-destructive chemistries.
But what makes Samsung’s note 7 different? Before we get to that, let’s understand how cell phone batteries are made.
Cell Phone batteries are made by literally pressing together a stack of battery components — and that battery companies are under pressure to cram in as much battery capacity as possible.
Now the revelation, what made Samsung’s Note 7 different?
Samsung may have accidentally squeezed its batteries harder than it should.
Debunking the Myth behind Exploding Phones

Exploding theories

Having said so, there have been many theories surrounding batteries of exploding Phones.
One cause of combustion is a problem with the “battery management system”. This system monitors the electrical current and tells a chip inside the phone to stop the current once a battery is fully charged. If either the system or chip is faulty, a battery can enter a state of “overcharge”.
The battery can continue to charge and can become even more unstable. they will then eventually burst into flames without any kind of external heating. Phones don’t contain fans or the liquid cooling mechanism you find in a gaming PC or electric vehicle, so heat must radiate out into the surroundings. If that doesn’t happen, heat is generated faster than it can be dissipated or lost.
When a battery reaches about 100ºC (200ºF), its materials start to break down, triggering a chemical chain reaction that releases its own energy. This accelerates the warming and leads to a snowball effect — a process called “thermal runaway”.  The snowball effect happens so fast that, within a second, the entire cell goes from being intact to being completely destroyed.

Fast charging Technologies and its toll on batteries

Also, there are a number of potential causes of excessive heat in and around the battery in a modern smartphone. The move towards fast charging technologies is now forcing additional current into lithium-ion batteries. And with every power transfer, there is always some heat generation.
The more power, the higher the potential heat. Some of this heat-loss will occur at the battery itself. Some heat is lost in the fast charging power conversion and power management circuitry, which is usually located next to the battery. This could certainly cause more heat at one end of the battery than the other.
The processors inside today’s smartphones are also producing more heat than the handsets from 3 or 4 generations ago. While not usually nestled next to a battery, this could further add to the temperate inside a modern smartphone. this will make it more difficult for heat to transfer away from the battery area.

Other tips to save yourself from an exploding catastrophe:

So then are we supposed to tread carefully around cell phones all our lives? Well, I chose not to answer that, but there are a few tips that you can follow to be on the safe side. One of the major indication that you can watch out for is a hissing sound, popping, or swelling. If you come across this indication, then be warned that your battery is damaged and could explode.

  •  Stop charging your phone it if becomes too hot.
    Allow your phone to cool down before charging it again. Make sure that you don’t cover your phone to let heat escape properly. Don’t leave your device in hot areas, especially if it’s charging. That only makes overheating problems worse. Ambient temperatures affect batteries a lot
  • Stick to first-party chargers.
    Use the charger included in the box to make sure that your phone is receiving the optimal voltage and current. If you’re using a phone with a USB Type-C port or Quick Charge, it might be wise to stick with the cable that came in the box too.Only use the manufacturer’s original battery or those from well-known replacement brands. It may be tempting to buy cheap batteries, but consider how much you pay for your phone. You wouldn’t put threadbare tires on a Ferrari.
  • Don’t charge your phone in bed
    I know it’s very tempting to watch a video before you fall asleep. But you don’t want to roll over on your phone and have it overheat. Not to mention that leaving your phone under a pillow while it charges will cause it to heat up.If your phone is charging or you are using functions that cause it to heat up a lot, make sure you are using it in a ventilated place (which means taking it out of its case, if you have one). This is especially important if it is charging overnight.
  • Be mindful of where you charge your phone.
    Avoid charging for long periods of time in really hot places.Do not leave your phone on a car dashboard, next to a radiator, or in direct sunlight on hot days. Charging your battery once it hits 50 percent is actually a good thing. Li-ion batteries don’t suffer from memory issues like some batteries, but they can be damaged by low voltage.

If you do happen to notice your battery swelling, unplug your phone and remove the battery. But only if the battery is user removable. Don’t attempt to dispose of the battery or device in the trash. Always get rid of your batteries at authorized disposal facilities or some electronics retailers, that offer battery recycling services.
If your battery and/or device is damaged as a result of a swollen or exploded battery, take your device to the retailer that you purchased it from. You can also get in contact with the manufacturer. A replacement battery or device is usually issued, especially if you have a warranty.
Follow these tips and make sure that you buy warranted and genuine products. 2017 has just begun and you don’t want to start it off with a boom (pun intended). Keep safe and stay tuned to AcadGild for more interesting blogs.
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