Quaternary blast injuries in lithium-ion battery explosions

Original article: JEMS – Journal of Emergency Medical Service

Over the last three decades, lithium-ion battery technology has increasingly provided the primary means of extended use of both industrial and consumer-grade portable electronic devices. While these devices are largely safe, they are known to carry a risk of explosions with resulting injuries ranging in severity from small superficial burns to death. A February 2018 report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported over 25 thousand overheating or fire incidents involving a wide range of products over a 5-year period.

In January 2020, the Federal Aviation Authority reported 280 incidents involving lithium-ion batteries on aircraft or in airports since January 2006, and in October 2016, the FAA banned passengers from carrying Galaxy Note 7 devices onboard commercial aircraft after a series of the phones caught fire.5 The manufacturer, Samsung, acknowledged design and manufacturing errors in the batteries being the cause of the fires and took steps to stop customers from using units which were already in the hands of users.

After a rash of explosions and fires caused by faulty batteries in so-called “Hoverboards” marketed from several manufacturers under a variety of brands, including a fire in Pennsylvania which took the lives of two young children, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall of half a million units from retail locations across the country.

In a similar string of battery incidents, a teenager was killed last year after his vape exploded in his face and a piece of shrapnel punctured an artery. Even the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was grounded for a time after a lithium battery fire issue. The common thread in all of these incidents is the dramatic failures of lithium-ion or lithium-ion polymer batteries.

Essentially, all batteries use some form of ion suspended in an electrolyte solution between solids to store electrical energy in a chemical gradient. The lead-acid battery in your car uses lead ions stored as lead and lead dioxide plates suspended in sulfuric acid. Lithium-ion, or “Li-ion,” batteries use carbon and a metal oxide with a lithium-ion electrolyte solution to perform the same general task as the battery in your car, but at up to four or five times higher energy density. Lithium-ion Polymer, or “LiPo,” batteries are essentially the same for the purposes of this discussion. One of the most popular forms of lithium-ion battery is the 18650 cell: a 3.7volt cylindrical battery slightly larger than the common “AA” battery. A single 18650 cell can hold up to 3,500 mAh.

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