Hazardous industrial batteries in e-cigarettes

Battery explosion in your pocket

Jan 23, 2018 | RAINER KLOSE

E-cigarettes often draw their energy from lithium-ion batteries of the type 18650, but these batteries are extremely dangerous without a protective cover. Empa scientist Marcel Held demonstrates this fact with an experiment on the program «Kassensturz» of Swiss television SRF. The take-home message: Whoever carries such batteries loose in his pocket lives dangerously.

A spare battery for e-cigarettes (industrial battery type 18650) is bursting in flames. Image: Empa

The SRF program «Kassensturz» on 23 January 2018 reported about a man who suffered severe burns to his thigh due to the exploding battery of his e-cigarette. He had kept the spare battery for the e-cigarette in his pocket, along with coins and a bunch of keys. This caused a short circuit; the battery turned into a flamethrower.

Empa’s  battery expert Marcel Held reconstructed the situation in his chemistry lab for the SRF television team: He removes the insulation film from a standard size 18650 lithium-ion battery and places the battery in a beaker full of screw nuts. Behind a protective screen, in a laboratory fume cupboard, Held then fills the beaker with some Swiss 5-rappen-coins. The upper contact of the battery, which was previously free, gets connected thereby. A short-circuit occurs, and after a mere 10 seconds the battery ends its life in a flame of 30 centimetres length.

The short circuited battery goes up in flames.

Only intended for installation in battery packs

Standard size 18650 batteries carry the warning «DANGER - DO NOT USE OUTSIDE OF BATTERY PACK». Such rechargeable batteries are only intended for installation in battery packs of laptops, power tools, e-bikes or cars. They should not be used or transported without a protective extra shell. The 18650 standard rechargeable battery is insulated just with a thin plastic film. If the insulation at the upper end of the battery cylinder is getting damaged, e. g. by a key, a single coin is sufficient to short-circuit the positive pole with the battery housing. If you carry such batteries unpacked in your pocket or handbag with you, you are definitely in danger.

Further Information

Marcel Held
Transport at Nanoscale Interfaces
Phone +41 58 765 42 82

Editor / Media Contact

Rainer Klose
Phone +41 58 765 47 33

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