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Someone left out this swell Kindle Fire…

June 23, 2015
swell-kindle-02

The partially exploded, or at least very overheated, battery of a Kindle tablet.

On the face of it, the black 7-inch touch screen tablet that I found on Monday looked invitingly pristine and sleek against the bright red dumpster where someone had generously left it. But when I picked it up off of the improvised shelf of the dumpster’s fork pocket it was unexpectedly wedge-shaped in my hand — one long side of the back shell was split open and forced away from the screen by some swollen thing in the guts of the device.

The word “Kindle” was embossed into the rubbery surface of the back shell. The tablet appeared to be an Amazon Kindle Fire and the thing inside it, swollen to more than twice its normal thickness, was its thoroughly toasted rechargeable lithium-ion battery.

Either the battery exploded, or it overheated to a point just short of exploding — almost certainly as a result of over-charging. In the process, it expanded like a bag of microwave popcorn and forced the case to pop open on one side. Now it looked less like a battery and more like a foil packet of spoiled food, puffy with botulism.

But it was potentially much more dangerous.

The ticking time bomb in my bicycle basket

It’s none of my business what Amazon chooses to call their computer devices but I do think that if the device uses a lithium-ion battery then it’s double daring fate to use both “Kindle” and “fire” in the name.

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries hold a lot of energy for their size and weight and they hold it without loss quite well. And they don’t have the so-called “memory” issue associated with older nickel cadmium (NiCd) or nickel–metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries.

However Li-ion rechargeable batteries won’t suffer overcharging gracefully. Both the batteries and the charging cords need to have appropriate circuitry safeguards to prevent the flow of electricity from exceeding the capacity of the battery.

If the circuitry isn’t there or if it malfunctions and allows a lithium-ion battery to be subjected to overcharging, the result can easily be a runaway chemical chain reaction inside the battery. The heat and the gases created in this reaction can explosively breach the sturdy packaging of the battery.

The lithium electrolyte is, by itself, a toxic and corrosive irritant to the respiratory tract, eyes and skin. But if the battery packaging is breached and the lithium compounds come into contact with air or water then it’s just as if little bits of hell have broken loose.

lithium is highly reactive and burns in normal atmospheric conditions because of the presence of water and oxygen. In water, lithium reacts “vigourously” with water to produce lithium hydroxide and hydrogen.

Non-rechargeable lithium batteries are the worst because they contain metallic lithium, which self-ignites in air at about 178° C (352 degrees F) and when exposed to water the exothermic reaction is often hot enough to ignite the flammable hydrogen also produced by the chemical reaction,

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries contain no metallic lithium, only “compounds” of  lithium but, as several YouTube videos can attest, Li-ion batteries can likewise overheat, catch fire and explode.

It’s not surprising then, to find that Canadian law classes lithium batteries as dangerous goods, right up there with gasoline, propane, and sulphuric acid.

What is a bit surprising is how the consumer electronics industry is working hard, night and day, to put one of these little explosive devises in the pocket of every man, woman and child on earth.

Being cheap is no way to avoid high charges

In most cases where a lithium-ion battery goes “fwoosh”, the cause is improper charging — either the battery’s internal circuitry, or the charger malfunctions.

Any incremental over-heating can, over time, damage circuitry and heat is a natural result of the resistance of wires to the flow of electricity, so even the best quality lithium-ion batteries and charger cables can fail over time.

But, by far, the most common cause of burning Li-ion batteries is supposed to be low-cost third-party or “no name” batteries, or those charging cables you can get in every dollar store or convenience store, which may not have the right circuitry to guard against overcharging.

But, you know, Amazon doesn’t sell a branded battery for its Kindle Fire.

A “genuine” Kindle Fire Battery; 4400mAh 16.28Wh; model number: QP01, lists at Amazon.com for USD$34.99 plus shipping, but it’s not being sold by Amazon. And other sellers on Amazon.com appear to be selling the same battery, model number: QP01, for half the price.

So, how can you tell the brand name products from the knockoffs on Amazon or Ebay? You probably can’t. All you can do is try to buy quality and cross your fingers — and avoid buying replacement charging cables at 2 a.m. — in a corner store — when you’re drunk.

How to dispose of the bomb

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The battery is connected to the Kindle by one ribbon plug and held in place by edge glue.

All things considered, it was probably a good thing that I got this half-ways damaged lithium-ion battery out of the blazing hot sun yesterday and today I’d better dispose of it properly.

All of North America participates in the Call2Recycle battery recycling program and there are hundreds of drop-off locations across British Columbia. You can find the nearest one to you in Canada by plugging your postal code into the online Call2Recycle locator page.

It’s generally safe to to assume that the largest retailers that sell batteries and consumer electronics in your area will be battery recycling drop-off locations and when I plugged in a postal code for my location in the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue, sure enough, the locator returned a number of big box sellers of consumer electronics within a 10 km radius: a Staples location, two London Drugs and one Home Depot.

Surprisingly though, it didn’t include NCIX, one Apple reseller or the Best Buy, also located within that radius.

But it did include the False Creek Community Centre at 1318 Cartwright St, as well as a City of Vancouver location at 453 West 12th Avenue.

I’m hoping to drop of the battery as quickly as possible, which means going to one of the retailers and probably means that I will be dealing with a sales person rather than a technician, so I’ve disengaged the battery from the Kindle Fire myself.

The battery was only attached by one ribbon connector  and a bit of glue along two sides, and the puffy side had already unglued itself from the housing.

As for the Kindle Fire itself, it will probably still work — if I pop a new battery in it.

It’s certainly not my heart’s desire to have a functionally-restricted Android tablet with no SD card support…but we shall see. Click the images to enlarge them.

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From → Android, Internet

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