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The end of the summer 2016 has got a lot hotter with several “explosions” of the Note7, but how can a smartphone explode? Can any phone explode? At best, you probably know already that the most dangerous part of a phone is the battery, however we are going to see in detail how these cases could arise and also what safety measures need to be taken.

Can the battery of a smartphone explode?

The batteries that our smartphones currently use (and the majority of electronic devices too) and contain inflammable components. They are lithium batteries, both Li-ion and Li-Po. All batteries have a cathode and an anode (positive and negative), a substance which reduces and gives out electrons and another which oxidizes and collects them. This transfer is used to provide the smartphone with energy.

In all batteries, the cathode and the anode are separated by a membrane. If the cathode and the anode touch each other then they react chemically, and in the case of lithium batteries that reaction is very quick. It isn’t an explosion, but rather a very quick combustion. Luckily the battery doesn’t have sufficient fuel to explode violently but it will cause damage to anything within a radius of half a meter.

Batteries have three layers (cathode, membrane and anode) rolled up several times on themselves in such a way that the cathode and anode never touch. The problem arises when the membrane that separates them deteriorates or what is much worse, when it comes faulty from the factory as in the case of the Note7.

If the membrane that separates the cathode and the anode of the battery deteriorates, both of them will enter into contact and the battery will burn

All lithium batteries have a temperature control circuit. If the battery heats up above a certain temperature range then the circuit will stop it from charging. High temperatures damage the membrane and as soon as this lets the cathode and anode touch each other the combustion begins.

Can any smartphone ignite?

Our smartphones seem to be harmless objects but there is latent danger inside. In general, the cases of smartphone combustion are only a handful, counted in tens, whereas 1,400 million devices are sold each year (smartphone sales for 2015). So the probability that a smartphone will go up in flames is extremely low, almost the same as being struck by lightning.

So, are we in danger? Clearly not. But it is true that it can happen, however, in general, quality controls ensure that batteries are safe.

If a manufacturer detects that a series of their batteries has some production fault, it will withdraw the devices immediately. Just as Samsung has stopped the distribution and withdrawn the faulty models of the Note7.

AndroidPIT Smartphone On fire
A swollen battery is literally playing with fire. / © AndroidPIT

Anyway, it’s always good to keep an eye on our batteries. We should make sure that they never exceed 60 degrees. If it starts to swell or deform it should be changed immediately. And what must never be done is pierce them with a sharp object as shown in the video above.

In cases like the Note7 in which the manufacturer acknowledges the mistake and orders the terminals to be returned, we should stop using the device immediately, not charge it again and follow the protocol that the manufacturer stipulates.

8 comments

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  • Samsung phones, in my experience, shut down if they start to overheat. Leave one in a car in the Summer and watch what happens when you come back to it. So It seems it would shutdown if it was a heat issue but hard to say. I'm not sure if other manufactures have this built-in.

  • With all the modern times we keep getting promised better and longer batterylife batteries but no one seems to come out with the finished battery, people are on there phones a lot more nowdays and think leaving there phones on charge while the sleep will make there batteries last longer, but it seems to damage the battery and cut down its batterylife and over heats as well, Galaxy phone users are somtimes happy with Samsung by offering the removable battery options, but with Apple not offering this and Samsung trying to gain iPhone users we have now lost this option on there Premium phones, Note 7 saga could have been solved a lot easier by offering this option and Samsung not losing so much money

  • Greg1100 2 months ago Link to comment

    They don't explode- they ignite when shorted out. Dodgy journalists writing for effect.

    • We've updated the article to make it clearer what it means when people talk about batteries exploding. Thanks for the feedback.

      • Greg1100 2 months ago Link to comment

        No worries Scott-- just getting fed up with newspapers saying that N7's are exploding. A bomb explodes- a phone gets really hot, ignites and burns, sometimes fiercely. You just got got in the way of some flak, lol. :-)

    • But if you seal the phone tightly like as in waterproof phones, then the combustion which generate gas will build up pressure inside the phone until it really does explode! That's why I prefer smart phones with user removable battery/ removable back. At worst case back will pop out and phone will start burning but there will be no explosion. with luck, battery will pop out too, so only battery will burn but phone will be salvageable!

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