What Makes a Lithium-Ion Battery Explode?

To understand why lithium-ion batteries in some cases fall flat, you have to know what's happening within. Inside each lithium battery, there are two terminals—the positively charged cathode and the negatively charged anode—isolated by a thin sheet of "microperferated" plastic that keeps the two terminals from touching. When you charge a lithium battery, lithium ions are pushed by electricity from the cathode, through the microperferations in the separator and an electrically conductive fluid, and to the anode. When the battery discharges, the reverse occurs with the lithium ions flowing out of the anode toward the cathode.

What Makes a Lithium-Ion Battery Explode?

The very thing that makes lithium-ion batteries so helpful is what also makes them burst into flames or explode. Lithium is extremely great at storing energy. When it is released as a trickle, it powers your device or cart for as long as it is required. When it is released all at once, the battery could explode or burst into flames.

Most lithium battery explosion and flames come down to a problem of short-circuiting. This happens when the plastic separator fails and lets the anode and cathode touch. Also, when those two come in contact, the battery begins to overheat.

There are various reasons that the separator can fail:

  • Bad Design or Manufacturing Defects: The battery is ineffectively designed. All things considered, there wasn't sufficient space for the anodes and separator in the battery. In certain models, when the battery expands a little as it charged, the electrodes bend and caused a short circuit.
  • External Factors: Extreme heat is also guaranteed to cause failure. Batteries left for too long near a heat source—or caught in a fire—have been known to explode. Other external factors can cause a lithium battery to explode, as well.
  • Charger Problems: A poorly made or inadequately insulated charger can likewise damage a lithium battery and cause it to explode. In the event that the charger shorts or generates heat close to the battery, it can do enough damage to the battery to cause failure. That is why we recommend utilizing only official chargers (or at the very least, high-quality third-party ones from reputable brands or trustworthy brands). Lithium batteries do have built-in protections to stop them from overcharging. While extremely uncommon, if these security safeguards fail, overcharging is a decent method to overheat a battery.
  • Thermal Runaway and Multiple Cells: Once one cell overheats, you get a domino impact called "thermal runaway." For batteries with hundreds of cells, especially that used in golf carts. Thermal runaway can possibly be a huge problem.
Carry-On-WALKINBAG

Several other factors can cause a lithium battery to explode.

Despite the fact that examining why battery at times fall flat paints a frightening picture, lithium batteries are a safe and experienced innovation. The fact that it is always news when a battery explodes out of the blue shows how uncommon an event those enormous failures are. Battery manufacturers set up a ton of safeguards to avoid battery failures, or if nothing else, mitigate the damage a failure can cause.

I don’t want it to look like I’m picking on the TSA, but I can’t let these go without saying something….

Yesterday they missed a guy at JFK who had a stun gun in his bag (http://bit.ly/YdUSrI)

They eventually got him after his former girlfriend let the cops know he had stunned and then raped her repeatedly the night before.  Bad guy caught but not without slipping through the TSA security checkpoint while trying to escape to London.

This while TSA Chief John Pistole was in Washington saying only an act of congress would prevent small knives from being allowed onboard (http://bit.ly/ZFuDaJ).

Ok, so a stun gun is not a small knife, but I’m not sure I’d be digging it on a position at this point if I’m Mr. Pistone.

In fact, this brings to mind the great scene towards the end of the original Rambo movie “First Blood”, when Colonel Trautman says to Rambo “IT’S OVER JOHNNY.  IT’S OVER”.

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If only it was!!

March 15, 2013 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

Leave it to the TSA to shake a blogger out of his doldrums…..

Ok CarryingOn fans if you’re still out there, I’d like to apologize for not being very active over the past few months. Chalk it off to a bunch of things we won’t go into here, but after observing the recent statements and actions of the TSA, even the Rip Van Winkle of bloggers would be stirred to life!!

It all started when I read that the sequestration forced budget cuts were going to cause chaos in air travel. It seems as if a 4% budget cut would result in everything from forced flight cancellations to reduce the workload on ATC staff, to dramatically longer security lines with a less secure environment to boot, and a quadrupling of the time it takes to clear customs at some of our bigger international gateways.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and TSA Chief John Pistole were the ringleaders of a clear effort that used hyperbole to create panic among the masses who use the air transportation system on a regular or irregular basis. They were quickly joined by a chorus of industry insiders and pundits who accepted their predicted outcomes without even the slightest pushback, and then decried the impact on the travel industry.

In fact, in the days after the sequestration started, Napolitano suggested that the lines had already begun to build (this despite the fact that not one screener has been let go, since the law requires that federal workers must be given 30 days notice before a furlough, but we digress from the chaos).

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Well as your might have imagined by now, CarryingOn is not buying any of it.

It’s all political theatre designed to scare us into thinking that what amounts to a rather insignificant budget cut, would mean the end of air travel as we know it.

We’ve written a few times about the TSA and like tracking them because of their entertainment factor (http://bit.ly/YxteVQ),
but for those of you who might not scrutinize them as closely as CarryingOn, here are a few of data points to consider:

• The TSA now employs 62,000 people, 47,000 of which are screeners, and has an annual budget of $8Billion.
• In 2007 some 680 million flyers were screened by what were then 44,000 screeners, but in 2011 only 640 million of us took to the skies, yet there were 47,000 screeners.

If you’re keeping score on that one, a 6.2% reduction in the number of people being screened seemed to require a 6.8% increase in the number of screeners. Now I don’t claim to be a TSA staffing specialist or to know all the complexities of what the TSA does, but I did do a two year stretch at LGA Airport a few years back, when the airline was still responsible for the screening checkpoint (we hired sub-contractors), and I seem to remember that if we had less people coming through the place, we needed less people to handle them. Who knows, maybe the shoes in the bin part causes you to need more people.

The TSA has also said that the only way to manage the required cuts is by reducing staff. Obviously that’s one way to do this, but surely not the only way. Maybe they can cut something else. Like what you ask? To answer that, it’s time for some more TSA fun facts, these provided by a joint report by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Committee on Oversight of Government Reform, which showed that among other things:

• The TSA has a warehouse in Dallas, Texas, where 5,700 pieces of unused security equipment sit in storage. The dormant equipment is worth $184 million.
• This equipment storage cost taxpayers another $23 million in depreciation, because nearly all of the 472 carry-on baggage screening machines in the warehouse have been sitting there unused for over nine months.
• The agency spends another $3.5 million every year just to lease and manage this warehouse.

In addition, under the recently renewed labor agreement, TSA employees will see their uniform allowances nearly double to $446 per year (by comparison, a combat Marine Lieutenant receives a one-time uniform allowance of $400). The cost of the increase in TSA uniform allowance is an estimated $9.63 million annually.

If we total this stuff up you could lop $220 million off the budget, which represents close to 3/4th of the required cuts, and not one TSA head was touched in the process! And I’m guessing they could find another $100 million to get to the required 4% reduction without too much difficulty.

But I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on the TSA because they are relaxing the restriction against carrying pocket knives, billiard cues, and a host of other items that make absolutely no sense being onboard.

So while it might take more time to get through security, once onboard at least I can go back to my favorite thing to do on a long transcon flight, whittling wood. I can see it now…..”Hey, look there’s Minnesota Fats in 32C . I’m going over and introduce myself and see if I can trade him my wood carving of Janet Napolitano’s head in return for some tips on how to play a better game of 9 Ball.”

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March 15, 2013 at 6:02 am 2 comments

Seems some people would pay more to get off the plane first…..but I have my doubts about this one.

An article in yesterday’s New York Post referenced a research report conducted by Airfare Watchdog.com.   Now before I go further in describing the report’s findings, I feel it fair to add that Airfare Watchdog.com is not some government agency or non-profit that is tracking airfares for empirical reasons or to monitor injustice in the world of airline pricing.   Rather, it is a cleverly named OTA.   But hey, they have passengers and asked 1,000 of them some questions and then turned the answers into a research report that got noticed by CarryingOn and probably many others, so good for them.

Putting the source of the research aside for the moment, I thought it would be fun to conjure up what would happen if airlines actually starting selling this service.   If as suggested in the survey, 1 in 6 travelers would be willing to pay more to exit the plane faster (10% said they would pay $10, 3% would pay $20, and another 3% an unspecified amount), the US Airlines would generate over $790Million annually in ancillary revenue.  That’s a lot of dough and almost as much as the US Government will save under ObamaCare in one year (I’m sure some of you can sense the skepticism in that analogy, but I couldn’t help myself having just celebrated our country’s Independence Day).

But before the industry starts debating whether this new GOF Fare (Get Off First, because we do love our acronyms) can be sold in the GDS’s, let’s consider a few things.   Having often wondered how I would fare in the fictitious Olympic event “Airport Steeplechase” as I dodged, weaved, and sprinted from Gate B27 to Gate E3 to make a connection, I asked myself if I would have paid an extra $10 bucks to get a head start.  Given I’ve missed my fair share of connections, and been put through the “reaccomodation” process, a process by the way, that I liken to being paroled from prison, I would pay the $10.

Now before you say “no way I would pay”, reflect a bit on your worst missed connection and the likely reaccomodation process you encountered….

”Sir, you will have to wait your turn, all these other people in front of you also need our help”, which was followed by,

“Sir, we are working as fast as we can…you will simply have to wait your turn”, only eventually to hear an hour later,

“Sir, I’m sorry but the only thing we have for you is a connection tomorrow morning, and no, there are no hotel rooms available in the area”.

So you would probably pay the $10 too, but before our airline friends start salivating at the prospects of all that new revenue, they might want to consider the practical aspects as well.   In previous posts we’ve talked about the boarding process and how complicated and unruly it has become, but in the case of getting on a plane at least you have referees (in the form of gate agents), a bigger playing field (the boarding area), and some easily identified rules (your boarding pass for one), that help control the process somewhat.

Now envision yourself onboard a packed 757 and having paid the $10 to get sprung from jail (aka the middle seat in Row 38) faster.    Now think about an announcement that goes something like this, “ladies and gentleman, certain individuals onboard have paid for the privilege or exiting first, so I would like the rest of you to sit in your seats while they do that.”    I envision everything from looks of confusion, to stares of hatred, followed by a host of people who didn’t listen, barely understand English, or choose to ignore the announcement, getting up and into their overhead retrieval routine, thus impeding your sprint to the exit.   And what if you don’t end up getting off first after having paid for the privilege?   Is your money refunded?   Is there an arbitrator that rules on such things (“sir, you might not have been first per se, but you were in the first “wave” to exit, so technically we complied with the rules of carriage as outlined by IATA, ARC, the DOJ, EU, and Kevin Mitchell”).    I can just see the mayhem in the aisles, the Tweets on Twitter, and the status changes on Facebook to something like “still in line”, or “just ripped off by the airlines”.

As a result, to save the airlines and everyone else a lot of trouble, CarryingOn is going to recommend a quick death to this idea, because if you really want to get out of a plane before everyone else you can do it today and it works just fine.   After all, it’s not called First class for nothing :-).

July 6, 2012 at 11:24 am 1 comment

To shut off or not to shut off, that is the question…

As a follow-up to our last post, looks like the FAA is going to take the lead on updating the rules with respect to the use of electronic devices in-flight.

Being as thorough as they are, they plan to bring together manufacturers, consumer electronic associations, aircraft and avionic manufacturers, airlines, pilots, flight attendants and passengers, but, and this is a BIG but, they have yet to secure funding for the project. 

CarryingOn therefore expects we’ll get a definitive ruling at some point in 2018, or a full year after Mariano Rivera is enshrined unanimously on the first ballot to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Actually, I’m thinking Mo will be introducing Derek Jeter to the Hall in 2019 before you’ll know for sure if you can turn on your iPad and watch the induction ceremony from 35,000 feet.

March 21, 2012 at 7:09 am 5 comments

So what should we make of this………………

I read an interesting story in the Wall Street Journal about the growing trend of in-flight incidents involving people not shutting off their electronic devices.   There were quite a few nuggets of information in the article including:

– most passenger misconduct cases now deal with non compliance of electronic devices (no surprises there),

-there’s no firm scientific data that having a device on will cause an issue, just that there is the potential for it to cause an issue (again not surprising),

-In a study published in 2006, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University who rode 37 airline flights with a radio-frequency measuring device found emissions from cell phones that could interfere with global-positioning satellite systems (mildly interesting, and while I’m sure the Carnegie Mellon guys are smart, there’s still nothing too urgent about this factoid),

-Crews have anecdotally reported numerous issues linked to computers or devices on board, such as erroneous warnings on collision-avoidance systems, heavy static on radio frequencies and false readings on instrument landing systems, according to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ok you now have my attention, but seeing the word anecdotal probably means I’m still not that worried about some guy sneaking in a few more emails after takeoff),

-RTCA Inc., the non-profit which advises the FAA on technical issues, said in a lengthy study in 2008 that emissions from transmitting personal electronic devices, or T-PEDS, could interfere with critical aircraft systems (the evidence seems to be mounting),

-In some instances where crews caught passengers talking on a phone or using a computer, they were able to end interference by shutting down the device.  Turning it back on recreated the problem, suggesting a possible link (ok now I’m really paying attention, and by the way isn’t Nasa going away soon, and if so, who will check this stuff going forward?).

Given this compilation of information, CarryingOn has a couple of recommendation for its followers.   First, let’s all shut our devices off when asked, period.    Unless you’re giving someone instructions on how to disarm a nuclear weapon about to detonate, that phone call or email can probably wait don’t you think?   Second, if you see somebody who’s not in compliance feel free to educate them about the dangers of their playing another round of “Words with Friends”, or posting those photos of themselves eating a burrito in the airport on Facebook.   Perhaps something along the lines of “hey chief (or sister, if the offender is a woman), you know there’s data that shows that having that on can interfere with the collision-avoidance systems, so why don’t you do us all a favor and shut it down.   Otherwise, I’ll ring my call button and you know how that will turn out.”

If they give you the dirty look and shut it down, it’s all good.   You probably didn’t want to talk with anyone who just had an airport burrito anyway :-).

March 13, 2012 at 1:41 pm 5 comments

The Beginning of the End of Managed Travel or Just Another Bump in the Road

by Tony

In case you haven’t seen it, I wrote an op-ed piece for Procurement.travel that might be of interest.  As the title suggests, there seems to be a lot of things going on that could re-shape managed travel, so I figured I would put pen to paper and capture some of them for posterity (truth be told, I didn’t actually pick up a pen and write anything on paper, but you know what I mean, and I think it sounds better than saying I typed something into my computer).

Enjoy, and don’t say you weren’t warned.

March 12, 2012 at 7:46 am Leave a comment

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