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