You’d be foolish to put cheap and potentially lethal tyres on your car so why put dangerous batteries in your laptop or other electronic devices that could then be taken on board planes and potentially catch fire?
A case in the United States has shown just what can happen when you think the price is right when, in the end, it proves to be very wrong.
According to news website The Atlantic, Nicholas Jones bought a $15 replacement battery online when the one in his laptop suddenly stopped working.
But the New Yorker was in for a nasty shock when a few nights later the battery suddenly ignited, destroying his laptop, setting his settee on fire and badly damaging his hardwood floor. Nicholas also needed treatment for serious burns.
He went back online to investigate more about the battery and discovered that other buyers had reported fires caused by the same kind of battery.
The Atlantic says lithium-ion batteries can become flammable when overheated or punctured. Poor design can heighten the risk—a particular danger as companies race to pack more and more power into smaller batteries and cheaper devices.
Nadim Maluf, chief executive of battery software company Qnovo, said: “When you are pushing a battery to its limits the margin of error is extremely thin.”
The Atlantic says that many lithium-ion batteries are produced in China where it can be difficult to monitor what materials are used and whether corners have been cut in the manufacturing process and by companies that are working quickly to avoid copycats which can lead to unclear instructions and poor manufacturing.
It adds that many shoddily made batteries are also counterfeit, meaning they bear the name of a trusted brand even if they were made by an entirely different company.
Greg Bentley, a lawyer who has worked on more than 20 lithium-ion explosion cases, claimed: “We are seeing a ton of batteries manufactured in China that are terribly made and completely unsafe … rushed to be placed on the market. It’s really a perfect storm for potential hazards.”
This rise in lithium battery fires is posing a particular problem in the confined space of passenger aircraft which is why cabin crew now often include in the safety briefing a warning that if passengers lose their mobile phones down seats they should alert the staff and not try to retrieve it themselves. If they do, the phone could get crushed in the seat mechanism, sparking a thermal runaway fire.
When this happens one cell overheating in a battery can produce enough heat – up to 900°C (1652°F) – to cause adjacent cells to overheat. This can cause a lithium battery fire to flare repeatedly or even explode.
One way to tackle such incidents is to use an AvSax fire containment bag which can deal with fires in personal electronic devices and are now carried on aircraft operated by 65 airline companies across the world – including some of the biggest and best-known.
AvSax – which won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2018 - has been used more than 30 times to deal with emergencies since the start of 2017.
More than 13,500 AvSax are now carried on aircraft worldwide. Deployment is so effective that extremely expensive diversions to alternate airports are avoided.