Uniross, the manufacturer of rechargeable batteries, says that when purchasing a battery it is important to understand the risks of using inferior lithium batteries. “Lithium batteries, used in most of today’s smart phones, are dangerous and can be highly flammable. They also represent a major safety risk in the passenger aircraft industry,” Michael Rogers, MD of Uniross says.

“We support a recent article in Freight & Trading Weekly which discusses the risks of lithium-based electronic devices,” he says. The article notes the US-based Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that between 1991 and February 2014 there were 141 air incidents globally involving batteries carried as cargo or baggage. This works out to be about six incidents a year.

The article also noted that the dangers of lithium batteries have once again hit the aviation news as a possible factor in the Air Malaysia tragedy. South Africa has been described as an accident waiting to happen in the air transport of these highly combustible products. That is according to Sean Reynolds, training manager at Professional Aviation services who says he is passionate about the dangers of hidden and undeclared goods.

He believes they are one of the most dangerous products transported by air and too frequent a cause of air incidents. Rogers says that once a battery has been manufactured and the final label applied, there is no possible way of differentiating a good quality battery from a poor one. “You can measure the open circuit voltage, or even measure the voltage under load, or test the capacity of the battery. But none of these tests will indicate whether the battery has been manufactured in accordance with internationally accepted practices and more importantly if it is going to be safe after a few months of usage.”

Battery manufacturing is a complex process, now even more than ever, given that most new battery powered devices are being designed with rechargeable lithium batteries (Li-On and Li-Po). In the past, the old nickel batteries (Ni-Cd and NiMh) were relatively easy and safe to manufacture. “Lithium batteries are far more complex with a far smaller margin for error in the manufacturing process,” Rogers says.

“With the subsequent decline in demand for Nickel-based batteries, there is a proliferation of small battery manufacturers who were once previously manufacturing nickel-based batteries, now starting to produce lithium batteries. Ordinarily, this would not be a bad situation; however, the vast majority of these small manufacturers do not have the facilities, equipment or the technical know-how to safely and consistently produce these Lithium batteries. Yet, despite this, they continue to do so regardless of the consequences.

“As a result, we are beginning to see an influx of cheap and potentially dangerous lithium batteries finding their way into our devices, with potentially disastrous consequences,” Rogers says.

All rechargeable lithium batteries have the potential to catch fire or even explode. That is simply the nature of their chemical composition. Lithium is used in these batteries because it has extremely high electrochemical potential. But lithium is also extremely volatile and therefore potentially dangerous. It is for this reason that reputable manufacturers take such care to protect against possible fire and explosion by means of external safety devices.

So if this could occur with good quality, reputably manufactured lithium batteries, just imagine the potential for disaster with cheap substandard batteries produced in inferior facilities. A single lithium battery can cause untold damage if it catches fire, or worse still, if it explodes. A standard lithium-ion penlight battery, for example, can burn at temperatures in excess of 600 degrees C, with a violent open flame, which should only be extinguished by means of a Halon extinguisher.

“Today, Asia produces many no-name-brand replacement batteries that are popular with South African manufacturers because of their low price. Many of these batteries, however, have been manufactured in substandard facilities, with no or very little quality controls, despite their claims of ISO certification,” Rogers says.

“Of course, there are many reputable battery manufacturers in Asia, some of whom manufacture on behalf of world famous electronic brands. However, there are far more who are anything but reputable. But it is impossible to know,” he says.

“Sitting half way around the world, on the other side of a website that claims to be a large worldwide manufacturer, we have no idea whether they are reputable or if they are even manufacturers at all. Even if one were to pay the manufacturing facility a visit, without being a battery specialist and knowing something about the battery manufacturing processes, it is impossible to know the difference between a good manufacturing facility and a poor one.

“Yet, despite this, countless South African companies continue to blindly put their faith in the hands of these Asian manufacturers or agents by simply choosing their batteries based on price and price alone. If you want to be ensured of quality and integrity of a battery-powered product, rather choose a battery specialist, a company who knows what it takes to manufacture a quality battery. A company who audits and controls the quality and manufacturing processes. Otherwise, beware the consequences because not all batteries are created equal.”

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