When Lithium-Ion Batteries Don’t Age Well

Battery safety is something most of us take for granted. We never expect the batteries that power everything from mobile devices to laptop computers could burst into flames. But it can happen. Even the best lithium-ion batteries are subject to not aging well. If you need proof, look no further than the PSP hand-held gaming device.

Recent news reports reveal that older PSP hand-held models that haven’t been used in a while are developing battery problems. Whatever is causing the problems is also causing the batteries to swell. Using one of the defective devices could lead to a serious accident. As such, those in the know are warning PSP owners to not use any device with swollen battery packs.

Batteries Are Highly Flammable

Lithium-Ion batteries contain chemicals that are considered highly flammable. That is why the batteries are also treated as hazardous materials by shippers and waste handlers. Any lithium-ion battery that gets too hot can burst into flames or explode. Yet that does not explain what is going on with the PSP devices.

Swelling indicates that pressure is building up in the battery case. This could be due to a chemical reaction inside the battery. The reaction produces gas which subsequently increases pressure and causes the battery to swell.

Assuming that this the case, using a battery under such conditions only heightens the risk. That’s because discharging a battery involves a chemical reaction that pushes ions from the negative side to the positive side. That chemical reaction could push a swollen battery over the edge and force it to begin combusting.

Charging a PSP device with a swollen battery pack is also highly dangerous. The pressure inside the case has built enough to cause swelling. Adding more current only makes the situation more critical. PSP owners are being urged to neither use nor attempt to charge an older PSP device with a swollen battery pack.

How Lithium-Ion Batteries Work

The danger posed by defective lithium-ion batteries is a direct result of how they are designed to work. Batteries of every type – be they alkaline, NiCad, NiMH, or lithium-ion – rely on a chemical reaction to do what they do. The reaction is facilitated by the various components inside.

A lithium-ion battery relies on lithium ions to receive, store, and release energy, according to Pale Blue Earth of Salt Lake City, Utah. When a lithium-ion battery is charged, the current flowing into the unit forces ions to pass through a liquid solution and to the negative side of the battery. Ions remain on the negative side until the unit is discharged.

Drawing energy out of the battery is a matter of forcing the ions to pass back through the liquid and to the positive side of the battery. The chemical reaction that facilitates this movement produces electricity. It also generates a certain amount of heat.

High Energy Density

Another important characteristic of lithium-ion batteries is their high-energy-density. You can pack more energy into a lithium-ion battery than you can a disposal alkaline. That’s why li-ion batteries are lighter. But again, this characteristic also adds to the danger of defective batteries.

Higher energy density makes defects more serious. The more energy packed into a battery, the greater the risk of fire and explosion. Lithium-ion batteries are generally equipped with protective circuits for this very reason. The protective circuits prevent the batteries from being overcharged, thus reducing accident risks.

Unfortunately, it now appears that the lithium-ion batteries in some older PSP units are not aging well. If you have an older unit you are not using, you might be better off recycling it.

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