In the quest for high power batteries to provide us with more convenience in our electrical devices, humanity has embarked on a high-speed journey, pushing off the tarmac, onto the tracks and now careering over unmarked territory. Like the seafaring charts of old, the empty places are filled with depictions of horrible beasts and warnings, stating “here be monsters”.
Let’s explain this further….
Irrespective of where we derive electrical energy, it must be stored if we cannot use it immediately. Batteries are used for this purpose and there are many different types of battery that have been developed to meet the demands of their application. When a battery needs to be compact, offer high power, and be fast-charging, the designers generally turn to lithium battery technology. This type of battery is ubiquitous in disposable products -– power tools, EVs, mobile phones and far too many others to mention.
Because lithium chemistry batteries have a high-power density, even a partially charged battery has enormous potential to cause damage if that energy is uncontrollably released. Mechanical damage to the battery can initiate this so it is vital that products containing these batteries are disposed of correctly. Every day there are fires caused by batteries at recycling centres, in street rubbish bins and in refuse collection vehicles. The close proximity of other fuel items often leads to these fires becoming major incidents.
Another cause of battery fires occurs when the power within the battery is not safely managed, often because of due to it being incorrectly manufactured, installed or charged. When those safety measures fail or are absent, a battery effectively turns into a self-igniting incendiary. A lithium battery fire is very difficult to extinguish and the chemical breakdown results in huge clouds of dense toxic smoke being emitted instantaneously. The effects in a small space are very frightening and extremely dangerous.
Here be the monsters!
The battery or its chemistry is not actually the monster; it is the unscrupulous manufacturers of the batteries and the chargers saving a few pennies in the design of the monitoring circuitry, reducing the integrity of the mechanical protection, or quite frankly, not caring that they are making every penny of profit they can by ignoring both moral and legal requirements to provide safe products.
They are not the only monsters. There are the monsters who tear the planet apart and provide the raw materials to feed this frenzy of battery power. There are the monsters who turn a blind eye to the damage being done in the name of progress. There are the monsters who sell products, not fit for purpose, to those who feel they cannot do without them. There the are monsters who mark products with compliance symbols to deceive everyone else in to thinking products are as safe as they can be.
Sadly, this long list of monsters is ever increasing because the ways and means of trapping and neutralising them has not developed as quickly as the monsters have exploited the opportunity to thrive.
Some of these things we cannot do much about but there are some monsters we can be alert to, and keep out of our lives. These include:
– Challenging our trust that everything we buy is safe, especially if the item is suspiciously low value, is an unknown brand or comes from a drop-shipped source obtained online.
– Considering the reasons behind the rules and regulations we are asked to comply with. Although these can appear frustrating, some regulations really do make sense, especially about recycling and those in user guides.
– Correctly disposing of battery powered products at recycling centres or drop off points.
– Only charging battery products while you can monitor them.
If we all follow these simple rules, these monsters become far less dangerous to us and our planet.