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Battery Safety - An Issue Not to be Ignored
by Shirley Georgi
Recent  CPSC Recalls

In June 2004, in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)  approximately 50,000 Verizon cell phones were being voluntarily recalled because of 18 reported incidents involving counterfeit batteries, including injuries to users and property damage. The phones were sold at both at retail locations and on the Web between April 2001 through December 2002 for between $150 and $200.  The batteries were sold from August 2002 to November 2003 for between $40 and $60.  

These phones may be powered by some LG_branded TM 510 batteries which may be counterfeit and susceptible  to overcharging, especially if used with a non-LG charger.   LG Infocomm U.S.A., Inc. states that these are  LG-branded batteries which do not contain a safety device in the circuitry to prevent overcharging.  In turn, the counterfeit batteries can overheat, posing a fire and burn hazard to users.  LG has stated that it has identified one source of the counterfeit batteries and that the company has taken  legal action against the importer in the U.S.


Also, in June, the U.S. CPSC along with Associated Electrics, Inc. announced a recall of  4,900 battery chargers for radio control race cars.  The product, Reedy Quasar Pro Battery Charger, which charges the remote control race cars, has a defective fuse and a program error in the charger can cause the battery packs being charged to overheat and explode, posing a risk of serious injury to consumers.   As of June 15, Associated Electrics has received three reports of incidents involving exploding battery cells.  One consumer sustained a bruised hand, while another received an eye injury from flying debris.

The recalled  #611 Quasar Pro Chargers were manufactured from February 2002 through February 2004.  The recalled chargers either have no barcode label on the underside or a barcode label with the numbers “611” or “611A.” The chargers were manufactured in China.

A recent “incident” with a Kyocera cell phone

Various news media reported in the first week of July that a teenager in Ontario, California was treated for minor burns as a result of a cell phone “catching on fire” while in her back pocket.  The phone was identified as Verizon Kyocera model .   Again, counterfeit Lithium-ion batteries were blamed as the cause, and Verizon is offering replacement of batteries in any of their phones in which the owners feel the batteries are counterfeit.  Verizon has also sent out recall letters to replace batteries in the Model 414.  

Escalation of problems since 2003

Last year, Nokia, the largest cell phone manufacturer, had several repeated incidents in which Lithium-ion batteries vented or exploded.  Nokia blamed the problem on overheating in the battery  and warned users of Nokia phones to use only Nokia batteries.   

Kyocera Wireless Corp and NTT DoCoMo of Japan have also had recalls for faulty batteries.

The U.S. CPSC had its first recall of cell phone batteries in January 2003.  About 40,000 batteries manufactured by  Coslight International Group in Hong Kong  were recalled.  Four phone batteries in Kyocera Wireless models overheated.

Prior to January 2003,  most of the recalls of batteries had were related to laptops.

Solutions/Positive Directions

Several years ago, a number of leading companies involved with portable computers with rechargeable battery chemistry came together to form a safety committee through the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) which worked through the processs of establishing a new specification for the design and manufacture of laptop batteries.    Known as IEEE P1625, the new standard, finalized in April 2004 , was created “to reduce the incidence of user problems. The portable  computer and battery industries need standardized criteria for qualification of rechargeable battery systems and verifying  the quality and reliability of those batteries”  The standards  cover the manufacturing process control requirements, energy capacity and demand management, levels of management and control within the battery systems as well as updates to Lithium-ion battery chemistries and packaging technologies.  It also specifies multi-fault scenarios that consider factors that can cause battery failure. (Note, this group worked  to improve safety standards for laptops, not cellphones.)

Adobe Photoshop Image
The counterfet LG-branded TM-510 cell phone batteries have a Manufacturer/Date Code with “AEMLLL 02220,” AEMMHH 0220,” “AEMLLL 02X25H” or “AEMMHH 02725,” and were distributed by Verizon Wireless.  Customer contact for the recall is Verizon Wireless at (888) 351-2121.  Information is also available on the website at www.vzwshop.com/lgbattery. (Photo is courtesty of CPSC.) +

Recently, some manufacturers of portables build in a battery pack that can only be changed if sent back to a specified location for a change of battery.  This helps control some of the “off-the-shelf” or “off the web” replacement  counterfeits which might be purchased.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation have recently (April 2003) imposed tough new restrictions on the air transport of Lithium-ion, Lithium polymer and other Lithium-based batteries.  Any battery pack containing more than 8 grams of lithium, or 96 Watt/hours in a lithium battery, cannot be transported in the passenger compartment of aircraft.  Additionally, new lithium battery packs, manufactured after January 1, 2003, must be rigorously tested and certified.  For additional  information, visit the websites on line at www.prba.org/proposal.html and www.iata.org.

Organizations involed with using the lithium chemistries are also educating their membership on the handling and care of such  batteries.  For example, the Academy of Model Aeronautics in April 2004 published an “Emergency Safety Alert: Lithium Battery Fires” so that their members might enjoy the power density of Lithium-ion and yet respect its innate qualities so that it can be used safely.  In their report they state, “A lithium battery fire is very hot (several thousand degrees) and is an excellent initiator for ancillary (resulting) fires.  Fire occurs due to contact between lithium and oxygen in the air.  It does not need any other source ignition or fuel to start, and burns almost explosively.”  

Adobe Photoshop ImageThe “Quasar Pro” shows a display of “QUASAR PRO VERSION 1.0” when first turned on.  Consumers should stop using the charger immediately and contact Assocaited Electrics to receive a free repair. The consumer contact number is (800) 518-7339.  Information is also on the website at www.teamassociated.com. (Photo is couresty of U.S. CPSC.) +

A Ray of Hope to Defeat Counterfeit Batteries  

Within the past month, NEC has announced a development of a system that can verify the legitmacy of the battery in use in cellular telephones and digital cameras.  A spokesperson for NEC Electronics in Japan, Sophie Yamamoto, says that the software solution is for use with the company’s microcontrollers.  Such software is installed in the device and battery.  NEC calls its new soution for verifying battery authenticity  “CipherUnicorn- S” encryption technolgy.

The Human Element

(BD editor note:  Although technological advances   and education for users, and perhaps even legal action and industry regulation,  can help alleviate part of the problem, the greatest threat, are those infiltrating the battery business  whose values do not include care and  concern  for others and whose  personal gains for  power and money  come at any price.  Perhaps this has always existed, but never before has our awareness been confronted so vividly  on a global basis.

 Since the advent of the new millennium, there has been phenomenal growth in communications and technology, but unfortunately, there has also been  a  seemingly strong   growth in examples of  unethical  business practices. It is sad that solutions in this realm are not so easily remedied  and cause problems for  individuals and companies in the battery business who are ardently working to make  safe and reliable  power sources  for our portable devices.)
               BD