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Why Do Some Mobile Devices Catch Fire?

I’m sure everyone reading this has at some point read a horror story in the press or seen a report on the news regarding a gadget like a laptop or mobile phone suddenly overheating and bursting into flames without any warning whatsoever. In many circumstances where this unexpected event has occurred it has resulted in severe damage to property or human life. Quality lithium-ion batteries are safe if used as intended. However, a high number of heat and fire failures had been reported in consumer products that use non-certified batteries.

Now it isn’t just the users of these items who are concerned about this dangerous side effect but also the manufacturers of the electronic equipment too. We all remember the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 which were due to a manufacturing defect that has since been solved, but illustrates just how dangerous those outbursts can be. 

The devices in question that caught fire all used lithium batteries and until recently no one had managed to come up with a reason as to why they should over heat so quickly and catch fire. That is until now. Scientists at Cambridge University in England have found the answer as to why this odd phenomenon is happening.

They have found that it is all to do with the growth of the metal fibres contained within the lithium batteries. The metal fibres are known as dendrites and it’s a case that when lithium batteries are charged up rapidly or repeatedly, small lithium dendrites start to form on the carbon anodes which then cause short circuits. These are then responsible the devices rapidly overheating and thus catching on fire.

To fight a lithium fire actually requires a specialist extinguisher known commonly as an L2 which is designed specifically to tackle such a blaze safely. Metal fires are in actual fact extremely dangerous and notoriously hard to fight.

Any scientific or industrial environment using metals such as lithium or magnesium need to be properly protected with extinguishers such as the L2 or M28. They work by using special applicators and powders designed to safely tackle the metals involved.

In your home you should also ensure you are protected and a standard ABC powder model extinguisher should be sufficient.

So to wrap it all up we now know why batteries catch alight. The next step is manufacturing more advanced models. I look forward to seeing them be deployed on the market.

Yours in Fire Safety


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