The Fire Hazard in the Palm of Your Hand

By Hannah Cheshire

No, this is not a metaphor; it is literally your mobile phone.

As of 2019, 59.79 million of us in the United Kingdom were smartphone users, and with the rapid development of technology, this is only projected to rise in the years to come.

While we like to think that we take great care of our hundred (or even thousand) pound devices, one small accident is enough to cause catastrophic damage to the internal components. The old andic of out of sight out of mind does not bode well with technology.

It is, therefore, incredibly important to reiterate the responsibility of how to treat and be safe with your devices.

The Science Behind a Battery

Lithium-ion batteries are used in mobile phone devices, and they are a lot more fragile than you’d imagine. The positive lithium anode collides with the alkyl carbonate electrolyte in order to transmit current and allow the battery to function.

The flow of negative cathodes to the positive electrode completes the circuit, thus your phone is able to operate thanks to a chemical reaction between the two substances. It is a precarious balancing act of elements, and one wrong move can be detrimental to its efficient functioning.

Overheating of the battery components can lead to the decomposing of the alkyl carbonate, leading to the production of flammable substances, such as oxygen and carbon dioxide. When a battery cannot contain this energy, it swells and potentially ignites or even explodes.

While modern battery controllers, sensors, and charge balancers exist to reduce the risk of this happening, there is always the possibility of malfunction.

In the past five years, mobile phones and other battery-powered devices have been banned from aeroplane hold luggage on the grounds of their safety at higher pressures, illustrating the growing concern surrounding modern technology and its potential safety pitfalls.

Malfunction

 

While charging a mobile phone is an essential part of ownership, it opens doors to hazards. Electrodes can have different charging speeds, and therefore electric charges can cause a battery to be overworked. While this is usually regulated, if a surge occurs, problems can arise.

For example, a freak strike of lightning in an electric storm may cause a device connected to the electric earth to short circuit due to the excessive energy. Therefore, staying away from chargers during these natural phenomena is advised, despite how bored you might be when having to stay inside, and your phone is on 4%.

Moreover, as previously discussed – a chemical reaction is what powers a battery. It is called a endothermic reaction, meaning it houses the heat produced within itself.

So, if one were to heat it up further, you are only causing yourself and your phone real issues. Excess temperature damages devices – that’s why Apple devices reduce function and eventually tell you they are too hot if overworked or used in hot environments.

This applies to charging your phone in warm places too – under pillows at night-time is a common location, for example.

Not only is the charge heating the device up, but the pillow is insulating that heat, as well as your body heat, which is also transmitting through the pillow. These rising temperatures can be detrimental to your phone and your safety.

The video above shows a bedroom catching fire after straighteners are left on a duvet. Although it is not a phone, the principle of excessive heat causing fabrics to alight remains. Watch the amount of time it takes for the whole room to set ablaze, showing how imperative it is to look after your phone and think logically about where and when you are charging it.

Another key takeaway from this is not to drop your phone, if possible. By dropping it, the impact of it can damage the correct order of operation of not just your phone, but the battery too. The septum between the electrodes can become compromised, therefore causing the device to short circuit, and this can lead – once more – to malfunction, and flames appearing from the depths of your device. It is imperative to both think smart about charging your phone, but also looking after it in order to avoid fire.

Takeaways

  • Charge your phone in open spaces – preferable on a non-flammable surface such as a plate.
  • Charge your phone in the daytime when you can monitor it – this gives the best possible chance for you to react responsively in case a disaster occurs.
  • Look after your phone – its health is just as important as yours.
  • Don’t buy chargers not approved by your phone’s manufacturer due to power differences – while we all love a bargain; it’s not worth compromising your phone or your life by being frugal.
  • Don’t charge your phone during an electrical storm – being inside doesn’t stop lightning interfering with the electric earth!
  • Listen to temperature warnings – next time your device complains it’s too hot, maybe just turn it off and leave it alone.
  • Be safe! – we live with these devices in the palm of our hand, so it is important to know the risks associated with them.

 

If you have any questions about anything we’ve covered in this blog, or you’re interested in our industry-leading fire prevention software, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.

 

Hannah Tawk To

Hannah Cheshire | Head of Marketing

Favourite superhero: Wolverine

Favourite sport: Ice hockey

Favourite music genre: Punk rock / Alternative rock