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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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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.


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