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Matsushita-made batteries could bust open Nokia cell phones

Lithium-ion batteries are giving more than just laptop makers constant headaches. Cell phone goliath Nokia today issued a product advisory for the Nokia-branded BL-5C battery warning consumers that the device could potentially experience overheating initiated by a short circuit while charging, causing the battery to dislodge.

As the cells in mobile phone batteries are smaller than those found in laptops, the risks are the same. Nokia told Engadget that the batteries will “overheat, expand, and pop out of the phone (due to the expansion of the battery).” The Finnish company said that no serious injuries or property damage have been reported.

Nokia has several suppliers for BL-5C batteries who have collectively produced more than 300 million BL-5C batteries. The estimated 46 million BL-5C batteries at fault are manufactured by Matsushita Battery Industrial Co., Ltd. of Japan between December 2005 and November 2006, from which there have been approximately 100 incidents of overheating reported globally. Nokia said that is working closely with Matsushita and will be cooperating with relevant authorities to investigate this situation.

Nokia is offering that all customers with affected BL-5C devices a replacement BL-5C battery free of charge. For a full list of affected phones and a form to check via product identification number, see Nokia’s website.

Battery recalls are a familiar thing for laptop makers, as over 10 million lithium ion laptop batteries have been recalled worldwide since last year. A long list of computer manufacturers has felt the effects of the defective batteries, including Sony, Dell, Apple, Lenovo and Toshiba.

Interestingly, Matsushita said in late 2006 that was mass producing improved lithium ion battery technology that safeguards against overheating. It is unclear if the BL-5C batteries incorporate this anti-overheating technology.

“When any supplier has a problem, it creates concern for the technology itself. The challenge that we must meet is to reassure the public that Lithium-ion batteries are safe,” said Michael Buckner, senior manager for Panasonic's Energy Solutions Lab, in an interview with DailyTech. “Safety has always been the number one priority at Panasonic. The incidents last year just reconfirmed that we need to maintain safety first in our designs.”



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omh another mountain out of a mole hill
By michal1980 on 8/14/2007 12:09:33 PM , Rating: 2
100 incidents out of 46,000,000 batteries.

a failure rate of what? .0002%




RE: omh another mountain out of a mole hill
By blackseed on 8/14/07, Rating: 0
By Griswold on 8/14/2007 12:54:26 PM , Rating: 3
Lets stick to the facts. The batteries did not explode, they expanded and fell out of the phone during charging - in 100 cases. And that is why they offer replacements for 46 million batteries instead of issueing a warning about exploding batteries and immediately recalling 46 million batteries.

Its noteworthy news, but nothing to freak out.


RE: omh another mountain out of a mole hill
By DragonMaster0 on 8/14/2007 12:54:48 PM , Rating: 2
You generally don't use it while it's charging. Also, you're probably not going to be talking with a burning hot phone in your hands I think. It could cause you problems if it's charging right next to you.

quote:
As the cells in mobile phone batteries are smaller than those found in laptops, the risks are the same.


WTH?


RE: omh another mountain out of a mole hill
By omnicronx on 8/14/2007 1:11:44 PM , Rating: 2
speak for yourself, generally yes, always no. I always charge my phone beside my computer when i get home, and talk on it while doing so as i don't like to screw with the recharge cycle. Weirdly enough, my phone battery exhibits the symptoms that the warning pertains too, so it could have happened to me ;)

(something gives me a feeling charging it like i did, probably killed it heh)


RE: omh another mountain out of a mole hill
By TomZ on 8/14/2007 1:55:42 PM , Rating: 2
There should be nothing (reasonable) that you can do to cause the battery to do that, and there is no reason to worry about messing up a recharge cycle, unless the phone and/or battery are defective or improperly designed.


RE: omh another mountain out of a mole hill
By omnicronx on 8/14/2007 3:34:29 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
there is no reason to worry about messing up a recharge cycle, unless the phone and/or battery are defective or improperly designed.
I know, i am just weary of the old original lithium-ion days.. of course those days were over in the early 90's but watcha gonna do ;)

off hand tomz, do you know if the 3 charge/deplete rule when you first use your device for lithium batteries still exists?


By TomZ on 8/14/2007 4:21:43 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not aware of that rule. Deep discharge of Li-ion cells is generally a bad thing. Maybe somebody else knows more?


By DragonMaster0 on 8/14/2007 8:39:18 PM , Rating: 1
But again, if it's due to overheating batteries, you couldn't even touch the phone, unless you're really holding your phone with oven mitts??? ;-)

The batteries are the problem. Pretty much every recent Li-ion batteries contain small controllers to prevent overvoltage and monitor how much battery life is left. That's because Li-ion is really sensitive to out-of-specs uses unlike NiCd/NiMH/Lead-acid. If the circuit is defective, it will cause trouble. Matsushita did a good thing to finally start to think about sensing the battery temperature as well, this is a thing previous battery packs didn't monitor.

The BL-5C was probably designed before Matsushita started thinking about overheat protection, therefore it probably doesn't have the feature since the battery is supposed to have the same stuff inside no matter who manufactured it.


RE: omh another mountain out of a mole hill
By Spivonious on 8/14/2007 12:46:23 PM , Rating: 2
That's why it's a notice and not a recall.


By JackBeQuick on 8/14/2007 1:29:09 PM , Rating: 2
It's OK, I thought Michael1980 was just a Sony apologist too.


RE: omh another mountain out of a mole hill
By TomZ on 8/14/2007 1:36:11 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
a failure rate of what? .0002%

Risk of burning/fire is not a "failure," it is a safety problem. The rate of safety problems has to be a lot closer to zero than "failures," i.e., than the battery failing to operate properly.

For the user, the difference between the two is possibly injury (or loss of life in an extreme case) compared to an inconvenience. For the company, the difference is between an expensive lawsuit/settlement compared to replacing a $20 battery in warranty. Big differences there.


RE: omh another mountain out of a mole hill
By michal1980 on 8/14/2007 2:47:36 PM , Rating: 2
its still by all counts 100 batteries in 46,000,000 million.

or 1 battery in 46,000 cell phones.

I dont see how people do not see that as amazing. in the end the thing is made and designed by humans, and subject to all sorts of conditions. (dropped crushed, stored in hot areas etc).

People that see 1 in 46,000 as a BIG problem...

Are the problem.


By Keeir on 8/14/2007 3:38:05 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
its still by all counts 100 batteries in 46,000,000 million


You mean, Nokia's customer service count? I imagine there is significantly more than 100 batteries affected (or will be affected) by the problem. Most people (in the US anyway) go to who they purchased the phone, buy a new battery, or buy a new phone before they notice the problem.

I know I had a nokia phone on the list whoose battery cover seems extermely tight. Only used the phone for 6 months due to phone breakage and contract resigning, but maybe if I had continued I would be one of the "100" problem cases.


Ha!
By omnicronx on 8/14/2007 12:52:00 PM , Rating: 3
I wonder if this has anything to do with what happened to my nokia phone. When they say explode do they mean the battery actually goes into pieces? Because I was charging my nokia one night and come back to it in the morning to find the battery had popped out the back and would no longer fit inside. I brought it to bell and they refused to help me, saying i must have had some sort of water damage to my phone, even though the white dot was not red. I will be really pissed if this is the case as i am now on my third phone of the contract.




RE: Ha!
By Dharl on 8/14/2007 12:59:47 PM , Rating: 3
Sounds like that's what happened to you. Charging your battery can cause it to heat up in the same way that talking on the phone would.

Granted it's best to charge them till it is at a full charge then remove it. Leaving it on over night caused the issue, but the issue shouldn't have been possible in the first place.

By exploding they mean that the battery expanded so much that it either shattered, or more likely would no longer fit into the phone.

If I were you I'd contact Nokia about this, and while you're at it go after the company that gave you the phone since they wouldn't help you. They owe you something. Print off the article while your at it. Confirmation from Nokia would help.


RE: Ha!
By omnicronx on 8/14/2007 1:13:45 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks boys, needed the clarification to make sure i didnt make a stupid phone call. I am going to call nokia tonight, its just too bad I have already bought a new phone.


RE: Ha!
By TomZ on 8/14/2007 1:41:09 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Granted it's best to charge them till it is at a full charge then remove it. Leaving it on over night caused the issue, but the issue shouldn't have been possible in the first place.

No, the battery charger circuits for these types of batteries sense when the battery is fully charged and they automatically stop charging it. Therefore, there is no need to unplug the phone from power when it is charged.

These batteries are also supposed to have built-in temperature sensors. My guess is that the temperature sensor is failing or is otherwise not being read correctly by the charging circuit. This would result in the charger not correctly regulating the current to the battery, possibly overheating it.


RE: Ha!
By FITCamaro on 8/14/2007 1:02:48 PM , Rating: 2
It doesn't say anywhere about it exploding. Just the battery will overheat, expand, and pop out of the phone. Sounds like you had the problem.


RE: Ha!
By dm0r on 8/15/2007 7:40:22 AM , Rating: 1
Im really lucky, i bought my nokia 2600 at october 2005 and i planned to buy it at XMAS


Batteries will be batteries
By JasonMick (blog) on 8/14/2007 1:09:04 PM , Rating: 2
(Sony breathes a sigh of relief that they did not manufacture the questionable batteries for once)

The life of a battery manufacturer must be a tough one. It seems like every other computer related technology is able to double their productivity every couple years, but all you can do is squeeze a couple more percent into your batteries, and hope that they don't explode.

Honestly, the state of the battery market in general is pretty sad today. This is a field that need some real innovative progress, and needs the follow through to make that progress into process. There have been plenty of design articles over the last year, detailing breakthrough designs. However, many of these, such as carbon nanotubes are years from being able to be fully realized with a cheap and efficient manufacturing process and still have many thermal/etc issues to address.

The only positive side effect of the battery lag, is that the computer electronics market is finally getting wise to the fact that power consumption is not a minor factor but a major one. This was something that was a striking flaw of many of the Pentium era chips. I still remember my Pentium 4 laptop from 4+ yrs ago. That beast could hardly last an hour brand new!

Also, Nokia might not be alone in the overheating issue, maybe just in the popping off issue. My 2 yr. old Samsung phone gets attrociously hot, both in the screen and especially in the battery/body both while talking and while charging. I don't know if it is hot enough to start a fire, but I would definitely qualify it in the overheating/discomfort range.




RE: Batteries will be batteries
By TomZ on 8/14/2007 1:48:29 PM , Rating: 2
You state a couple of misconceptions that I'd like to clear up.

First, the fault described in this case could either be the battery or the charger circuit. If the charger is not working properly, it could easily overheat the battery, causing the symptoms described. Charging circuits for modern batteries are much more complex than they were with older battery technologies. Because of this, battery manufacturers work closely with customers designing these types of devices to make sure that the customer-designed chargers are designed correctly. So in other words, don't jump to a conclusion that the battery is to blame.

Second, in the world of battery-powered device design, the emphasis on power reduction is an old and well-known area of focus. Intel's "discovery" of lower-power processors as you describe it is not at all representative of the design of mobile devices in general.


By JasonMick (blog) on 8/14/2007 3:00:50 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with your statement that it could be the battery OR the charger in the case of these circuit. However the article stated:

quote:
Nokia is offering that all customers with affected BL-5C devices a replacement BL-5C battery free of charge.


This indicates to me that the battery is the problem area, not the charger, or they would be recalling the charger/phone as well, one would think.

In my case the problem is definitely the battery AND the phone circuitry. The battery is the hottest, but the screen and board seem to be relatively hot as well.

As to my second point I said the "computer electronics market" when I mentioned lack of concern for battery efficiency. It might have been off topic, but I duly noted this destinction as I know that in the past handheld/embedded manufacturers have paid more respect to this important problem than computer hardware manufacturers. Both AMD and Intel were guilty of not taking power consumption seriously until recent generation computer hardware, the same is true for many other computer hardware manufacturers. So I think you misunderstood my comment.


Didn't understand the comment in the article
By totallycool on 8/14/2007 2:01:08 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
As the cells in mobile phone batteries are smaller than those found in laptops, the risks are the same.


Really couldn't get what you are trying to say there. Maybe the risks are 'NOT' the same???




By aos007 on 8/14/2007 4:16:57 PM , Rating: 2
I noticed the same thing. This sentence makes absolutely no sense. Perhaps the author meant to say "Even though cells in mobile phone batteries are smaller...".


Bulging lithium battery pack...
By dacquery on 8/14/2007 4:12:00 PM , Rating: 2
is one step before a full fire.

While this is not the Nokia battery pack but
what look like a generic lithium polymer pack.
See what happens when one overcharges it!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNeeIzaeYDo




RE: Bulging lithium battery pack...
By TomZ on 8/14/2007 5:49:30 PM , Rating: 2
This one's better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vS2hGoJVmlA

But seriously, I doubt there's really a risk of these particular batteries "going nonlinear" like you see in these videos.


My battery
By Alaa on 8/15/2007 2:46:14 PM , Rating: 2
And I was wondering why my battery became so FAT! :)




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