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How Notebook Batteries Work and Why They Explode


It seems like whenever I hit my favorite news sites lately, there's yet another report of an exploding mobile toy - specifically the battery. Even as early as a few years ago, there were sporadic reports of cellular phones exploding in pants pockets, and maybe the occasional mobile phone setting the interior of a car on fire when left on the dashboard. All this, and more, has been quietly swept under the covers, settled mostly out of court by companies with deep pockets. But as always, technological progress crept along, mp3 players can now probably fly the space shuttle, cellular phones might soon be joining the SETI search and most strikingly, notebook computers are so powerful they might as well be classified as computational munitions.

And what's hard at work underneath it all? Why, the humble hard working, unassuming battery. Except, if you believe the blogs, old humble and unassuming just might go postal without warning. In an attempt to straighten out some issues relating to batteries, I'm going to use a magnifying glass and some dissection tools to help us all better understand this vital component. Let me start with a Google search (Figure 1):

If 73,000 hits and growing don't raise your eyebrows, it might at least singe them a little! The more "fun" ones to click through include the notebook battery that blew up in an airplane boarding line. I bet that guy had a lot of explaining to do! And, then we have the infamous exploding notebook at Yahoo that had to be thrown into the parking lot like a hand grenade, causing the building to be evacuated for hours! So, if you're interested in learning about how these batteries work at a high level, what the safety considerations are, and more, keep reading.


It's fair to say each of us has an inner geek that thinks differently, so I'm going to try to explain batteries a couple of different ways. Basically, I'll explain how batteries work from a high level, then, I'll dissect my notebook batteries and show you how they tick. Along the way, I'll go over care of batteries, and safety and longevity considerations.

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