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Batteries/Lithium-ion Safety/Lithium-ion Recall 051117
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More heat for Lithium-ion batteries
by Shirley Georgi

Adobe Photoshop ImageCover Photos: Apple computers are shown with their associated batteries earmarked for recall. The 128,000 recalled Lithium-ion batteries are used with the following computers: 12-inch iBook G4, 12-inch PowerBook G4 and 15-inch PowerBook G4.  The recalled batteries include those with model numbers A1061, A1078 and A1079 and series numbers that begin with HQ221 through HQ507 or 3X446 through 3X510. Photos are from the CSPC Website.+

The Apple recall of Computer Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries in computers were once again voluntarily recalled in May 2005 when Apple, in conjunction with the U.S. Product Safety Commission,  said that an internal short in three model notebooks could have battery cells which could overheat and pose a fire hazard to consumers.  Apple received six reports worldwide of batteries overheating, including two in the United States.  

The batteries are said to be manufactured by LG Chem Ltd., of South Korea.  

The computers were sold through regional resellers, catalogers, and Apple’s on-line retail stores with batteries from October 2004 through May 2005 for between $900 to $2,300.  The batteries also were sold separately for about $130.  

Accepting responsibility?

In a press statement concerning the recall,  Apple’s spokesperson  Natalie Kerris   noted that the company’s first concern is for the safety of the customers.  She also said, “However, we do not expect the cost of the recall to be material to Apple, and our supplier will bear those costs.”

Although there was no formal statement associated with the Apple recall from LG Chem, on May 23rd The Korea Herald reported  that LG Chem made a comment  in reference to the recall  and  stated that   the problem of rechargeable batteries had been corrected. In addition, they said, “The Company will form a task force to continue monitoring the batteries to prevent all possible hazards.”  It was also noted in the article that LG Chem attributed part of the problem to manufacturing methods of Apple Computer. “(“LG Chem recalls batteries from Apple laptops” by Kim Ji-hyun, www.heraldcampus.co.kr)

This is the second recall within less than nine months.  In August 2004, 28,000 batteries were recalled in Apple’s  PowerNotebooks.  The manufacturer was also LG. Chem.

Preferred suppliers?

Although Sony and LG chem have provided the bulk of Lithium-ion batteries for Apple Computer, about 20 percent have been supplied by DynaPack, a Taiwan-based company.  According to an article in the  DigiTimes,  DynaPack began shipments to Apple for its Powerbook earlier this year and Simplo, another Taiwan-based company will begin shipments to Apple starting at the end of  the year.   (“Apple notebook battery recall may benefit Taiwan makers”  by Huang Kung Tien, Taipei; Jessie Shen, DigiTimes.com, 05/25/05)       

So will LG Chem continue to supply  Lithium-ion batteries to Apple?    One opinion comes from   Rob Enderle, president and founder of the Enderle Group in the U.S. When asked about the recall, he  was quoted by the Xinguanet news in China as saying, “It seems like they (decision-makers at Apple) have a problem with their supplier.  That hurts customers’ good will.  They may be forced to get a new supplier.”

Although not  an OEM supplier, Other World Computing and New Technology, Inc. took advantage of the timing of the recall to announce their complete line or replacement batteries for Apple PowerBooks by adding two options for the Apple’s PowerBook G4-17 inch Aluminum.  They also noted, “Not only do NuPower batteries offer as much as 42 percent more capacity than Apple’s factory shipped battery, but all NuPower batteries are designed, engineered and built in the USA using only top quality Lithium-ion cells from Japan and Canada.

The Apple iPod Battery Replacement

Apple is replacing batteries in its first, second and third generation iPods, not because the units have a battery which  overheats, but  because the batteries are said to need a recharge sooner than was advertised in sales literature  when the units were purchased.   

Those who purchased first and second generation iPods are eligible for a $50 coupon or  $25.00 in cash.  

For third generation iPods purchased before May 31, 2004, Apple will extend the one-year limited warranty for an additional year, soley to cover the battery failure.  A battery will be replaced for the iPod at no charge or  a $50.00 store credit can be requested.  

Adobe Photoshop ImageNew iPods allow  the user to “picture the music.” Slide shows with music are a great option, but the beautiful photo screens do take their toll on battery life.  With a fully charged battery, the user  might enjoy 15 hours of continuous music, but adding  the continuous slide show with the music will require more power, and battery ‘charge life’ will be diminished to five hours.   (Photo is couresty of Apple iPod website.) +

In this replacement offering, defining “battery failure” is essential.  If an  iPod’s battery holds a  charge to four hours or less in continuous audio playback, with earbuds attached,   the unit  fits in the “failure” category for the first and second generation units.  For the Third Generation iPod, the charge limit is five hours or less of continuous audio playback, with earbuds attached.  

Although two million people could be affected by this replacement of the battery in their iPods, it is doubtful that   the replacement size will be that large since many have bought newer units and others will not file claims.

Battery failure poses questions

(BD note: Apple is offering to replace  all  batteries included in the stated lots,  but one speculates how many of the batteries  were truly limited in life?  Were the majority of the batteries  being   properly charged by the users? Do most users know how to optimally treat Lithium-ion batteries?  Or, was Apple’s advertising initially too unrealistic? )

First, it is important to note  that the batteries were not made by unknown producers but rather by  well-respected manufacturers.  The first and second generation iPods use a 3.7 V 1230 mAh Sony Lithium-ion polymer battery.  The third generationn uses a 3.7 V 850mAh Lithium-ion battery.  The iPod mini uses a Sanyo Lithium-ion battery.  Apple chose first class suppliers.  

There is  a  possibility to have a few batteries in a manufacturing  lot that may not perform optimally,  but other conditions, controlled by the user, can also cause   “battery failure”.  The length  of time a battery will power a device before recharge depends on how  one uses it.  

Although there were numerous articles by the media  on the Apple’s iPod replacement, there were no knowen articles discussing the battery and how it should be treated to obtain  better performance,  maximum utilization and safe operation. User interface and treatment of a portable device can make a difference in the life of  the device and battery  Therefore, reviewing   a few tips to maximize battery life and conserve power in an iPod and other similar devices  are  being revisited.  

Set the  hold switch when you aren’t using the unit.       This will prevent iPod controls from inadvertently waking up iPod and using unnecessary power.  The user may not even be aware ‘the awakening’  has happened.   
Do not set  the  backlight to “always on.” It will significantly reduce  battery life.  
Optimize settings for the equalizer. Adding equalizer (EQ) to playback uses more of the iPod’s  processor power.
Update to the latest software.  Newer software might  have the capability of optimizing battery performance.   
Go through at least one charge operation a month.
Respect the chemistry. Lithium-ion  does not like hot temperatures.  Operating devices such as an  iPOD and its power source, the   Lithium-ion battery, in temperatures over 950F can permanently damage the battery’s capacity.  This means the battery won’t power the  device as long.  More damage can result if the  battery is charged  in  high  temperatures. Storing  an iPod, or any portable device with a Lithium-ion battery,  in a place above 1130 F  will affect battery life.  Letting the  device sit on a dashboard on a hot day in summer, where temperatures can get far above the 1200 F to 1300 F range,  is  abusive to the battery and may even be  a safety hazard.

It may never be known how many iPod batteries had a true “battery failure” or how many iPod owners  have misused  (or improperly used) the battery. There is also no way to calculate how many batteries functioned  as listed in the initial advertising.  What is known is that  iPod owners will get  compensation  for the batteries.

But the impact of the replacement should go beyond compensation.  As in any recall or replacement, education is a critical component for users.   To enhance proper battery usage,  Apple has  “common sense pointers” on    the iPod battery on its website.  One source can be  found at http://ipodbatteryfaq.com. For those owning an iPod, it may be worth the effort to read this text.

Hopefully, a positive outcome of this incident will result in individuals becoming more educated about rechargeable batteries.  With the large number of portable electronics  being powered by Lithium-ion chemistry, there needs to be high volumes of information and reminders on how to best utilize and treat this battery and thus get maximum utilization of its power.  Vendors selling the batteries  have a responsibility to include information on how to have optimal and safe battery usage.
      BD