The media are in a scrum over the incident of the airplane passenger who fell asleep listening on her headphones. This is most unfortunate. We extend our commiserations for the shock she must have felt when her headphone battery exploded. Our best advice is not to fall asleep near any lithium device, especially when it is charging. That is, until scientists have found a way to solve the problem.
The Fundamental Difficulty is Aging Batteries
Scientists have made good progress with managing the lithium-ion process better. They have even developed a fire extinguisher capsule to end lithium battery fires before they spread. However the dwell time to get inventions to market is often months, if not years. Thus in the meantime their discovery counts for little for consumers.
What May Have Caused the Headphone Battery Problem
Lithium-ion batteries contain electrodes that are actually bad companions. However when we manage them correctly, they contribute to a superbly effective battery.
The ‘umpire’ is a thin polymer sheet with nano-holes punched through it for the ions to pass through. Provided everything goes according to the rules then all is well.
The lithium industry faces a legacy that is difficult to deal with. This legacy is millions upon millions of lithium batteries well past their sell-by-dates. They began to degrade the moment they left the factory.
Lithium-battery design life is nominally two years, by which time they are not nearly as effective. They are also two years behind technology at that point.
We Need a Fresh Consumer Mind Set to Sort This Out
As a species, we are awfully bad at replacing things before they wear out. We run our auto tires down to the wear marks, and we wear a favorite tee shirt with unraveling threads.
We do not want to pre-judge the headphone battery saga and so we wait for the report.
In the interim, our advice is simple. Be in the room when a lithium-ion battery is charging or recharging. And replace it at the first sign of overheating, especially if a headphone battery or any other wearable. That way we manage the situation responsibly and should not encounter a problem. The probability of a particular lithium battery catching fire is extremely low.
Preview Image: Airline Passengers