Man vaping - why 18650 lithium-ion batteries can be unsafe. Photo by Toan Nguyen on Unsplash. Man vaping - why 18650 lithium-ion batteries can be unsafe. Photo by Toan Nguyen on Unsplash. An AvSax fire containment bag An AvSax fire containment bag

How unscrupulous battery sellers are putting lives at risk

Battery packs are being split up and sold as separate batteries making them potentially lethal as they could catch fire or even explode.

The 18650 lithium-ion battery cells – which are slightly larger than AA batteries – are manufactured as industrial component parts of battery packs and are not designed to be taken apart and sold separately.

But the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has revealed they are being split up, rewrapped and sold as new consumer batteries, usually on the internet.

The danger is that once the batteries have been separated from one another they may have exposed metal positive and negative terminals that can short-circuit when they come into contact with metal objects, such as keys or loose change in a pocket. 

Once shorted, loose cells can overheat and go into thermal runaway leading to fires, explosions, serious injuries and even death. Thermal runaway happens when one cell in a battery overheats it 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.

It can also happen in these batteries if consumers use them in chargers that allow for charging beyond the what the battery can take. These types of batteries are typically used in vaping devices and toys.

The CPSC is working with e-commerce sites, including eBay, to remove listings selling these batteries. 

The CPSC adds: “Do not use loose 18650 lithium-ion cells that are separated from battery packs. They are often misused as a stand-alone consumer battery, but do not have protection circuits.”

Incidents of thermal runaway are on the rise, most worryingly on aircraft. There have been 268 incidents involving lithium batteries reported to the Federal Aviation Administration in the USA since 2006.

Many airlines now carry specialist fire containment bags to minimise the risk.

AvSax are the world’s best-selling aircraft lithium battery fire containment bags by far and are now on more than 15,373 aircraft operated by 80 airline companies. They have been used 33 times to deal with emergencies since the start of 2017 and every time they have been deployed the aircraft has been able to complete its journey safely with no need to divert or make an emergency landing. Diversions can be very costly to the airline company and can even run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

AvSax won the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the UK in 2018.

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