Unless you’ve somehow been able to avoid social media and the news over the past few weeks, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard about the two hottest (literally and figuratively) pieces of recent tech news. I, of course, am referring to the announcement of the iPhone 7/7s and the spontaneous combustion of Samsung Galaxy Note 7 batteries. I won’t waste your time by touching on my opinion of the new iPhone in this article but will instead give you a summary of what is going wrong with the Note 7’s.
When I first heard about the exploding Note 7 batteries, my immediate reaction was along the lines of “just like those hoverboards!” I’m sure we all remember the emails from last year informing students that they were no longer allowed to ride or even store hoverboards on campus grounds. It turns out that the Note 7’s are having the same exact issue as some of the cheaper hoverboard models did.
Much like hoverboards, cell phones utilize lithium ion battery packs as their primary power source. The science behind lithium ion battery packs is fairly simple and has been around for many years. Issues arise when the thin piece of plastic separating the positive and negative ends of the battery becomes punctured. This forces the battery to short circuit and, in turn, forces the point where the separating plastic was ruptured to become the path of least resistance for the electrical current. When this happens, the liquid electrolyte, which makes up most of the battery internals and also happens to be very flammable, heats up. If the electrolyte solution heats up too quickly, it can cause the phone to heat up to an extreme temperature or even explode in rare cases.
As I mentioned before, the Note 7 is by no means the first phone to encounter this issue. The reason that it is affecting Note 7’s in particular is because of too much external pressure during the manufacturing process. The pressure plates used during the manufacturing process squeezed the battery too tightly and forced the positive and negative poles of the battery to come into contact. These poles can only come into contact if the piece of separating plastic is punctured, thus creating the path of least resistance directly between the two poles.
The phone industry is well aware of the potential risks that lithium ion battery packs can cause but most likely will not move away from the use of the packs until a better (affordable) technology comes along. Frankly, the lithium ion route is cheap and relatively safe, so advancement in terms of power supply will only happen when alternatives can be produced cheaply. Samsung is not the only company to have had issues with lithium ion battery technology. Nokia and Apple have both had issues with dangerous batteries in the past (in 2004 and 2009 respectively).
The risk of your battery exploding is very small but it is better to be safe than sorry. Independent analysis states that less than 1,000 of the 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7’s (.01%) that were previously manufactured have experienced issues. Samsung is offering refunds to users who have purchased the faulty Galaxy Note 7’s and has already switched battery suppliers. If you happen to have a Galaxy Note 7, it is within your best interest to return the phone as soon as possible to eliminate potential risk. You will either receive a full refund or you can trade it in for a different Samsung smartphone.