Lithium-ion Battery: What Everyone Should Know
Most of us remember one of the first advancements in rechargeable batteries for consumer devices, the Nickel-cadmium battery(NiCd). This battery type became known for having “memory” at a particular charge level. I was told we were supposed to always let the battery fully discharge or it remembered any level it stayed at. In the future the battery would only charge as high as that level. Eventually, the time available from the battery would decrease and become useless.
Small consumer products and even new vehicles took off with the introduction of Lithium and rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries. They were able to hold a longer charge and they didn’t have the same memory issue as the NiCd battery. They’re not as toxic and when not in use they don’t lose their charge as quickly.
We’re still learning about the care and feeding of Lithium-ion batteries. For instance, the folk-lore about conditioning a battery is not true. A Lithium battery like the AA’s you put in your remote control are not the same as Lithium-ion. They don’t have the same risk in your device.
My new Helix from Lenovo included many new battery options to help prolong the time I could spend unplugged and also to extend the life of its batteries. The Helix has a battery in both the keyboard and tablet/screen providing a total of 10 hours of power when properly balanced.
The “Battery Health Mode” feature of the Lenovo battery app has a setting that prevents batteries from being fully charge. If a lithium-ion battery remains fully charged it won’t last as long. This utility is intended for folks who have their laptop plugged in most of the time. This is much more common now that laptops have replaced desktop computers in the office. The utility recommends only charging 50% when powering my Helix from the wall socket I just need to remember to change this option and fully charge if I expect to be unplugged for a while..
Another important lesson learned especially by the airline industry is the risk of fire by damaged lithium-ion batteries. There have been recalls and some unexpected fires in the news including an iPhone which was reported to catch fire while being charged but these are still rare given the wide spread use of these batteries.
In 2006, I wrote about a recall by Dell after one of its laptops caught fire and a video was uploaded to YouTube. Later in that year I shared a video which was part of the research initiated by my partners at PC Pitstop.
Yesterday PC Pitstop and D2 Worldwide released the results of their renewed research. While trying not to scare anyone the research is clear that anyone using a lithium-ion based device needs to know the possibilities.
Everyone should know the rules of a lithium-ion fire.
1) You can’t cover it with a blanket, it doesn’t need oxygen.
2) Do not use water to put it out. Combining water can be explosive.
The best solution is having a Type D Fire Extinguisher. I also recommend leaving the scene as quickly as possible while calling 9-1-1. Whether it’s a laptop or electric car be sure to notify first responders a lithium-ion battery is used.
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