HomeIndustry SectorsEnergy EfficiencyNot all batteries are created equal

Not all batteries are created equal

By Michael Rogers, managing director of Uniross Batteries
25 September 2013 – In today’s technology driven world, the battery is probably one of the most crucial components of any device. Without it, your equipment simply will not work.
Unfortunately, the battery is also, more often than not, one of the highest costs on the bill of materials, making it the first target for any manufacturer to cut costs. However, before you decide to simply replace the battery with a cheaper imported equivalent, consider that not all batteries are created equal.
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. Yes, you can measure the open circuit voltage, you could even measure the voltage under load, or if you have the means, you could even test the capacity of the battery. But none of this indicates whether the battery has been manufactured in accordance with internationally accepted practices and more importantly if it is going to be safe in your equipment after a few months of usage.  
Battery manufacturing is a complex process, and now even more so than ever, given that most new battery powered devices are being designed with rechargeable lithium-based batteries (Li-On and Li-Po). In the past, the old nickel based batteries (Ni-Cd and NiMh) were relatively easy and safe to manufacture. Lithium-based batteries are far more complex with a far smaller margin for error in the manufacturing process.
However, as a result of 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.
What happens when a lithium battery explodes? All rechargeable lithium batteries have the potential to catch fire or even explode. That’s 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, 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.
Of course, there are many reputable battery manufacturers in Asia, some of whom are in fact manufacturing on behalf of world famous electronic brands. However, there are far more who are anything but reputable.
But it is impossible to know. 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 representing them 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 that knows which Asian manufacturers to use. A company that audits and controls the quality and manufacturing processes. Otherwise, beware the consequences because not all batteries are created equal.