Earlier this week, Samsung announced that it would be permanently halting the production of its flagship phablet, the Galaxy Note 7, which was released only a couple of months ago. This comes after reports regarding replacement Galaxy Note 7 units catching on fire started to emerge last week, sparking safety concerns among Galaxy Note 7 users. Before this incident, Samsung had issued a worldwide recall of the Galaxy Note 7, after numerous reports of units exploding while being charged were highlighted in the media. Samsung carried out an internal investigation which concluded that the blame was to be put on the battery encased within the device. However, it has been reported that in actual fact, Samsung engineers were unsure of what caused the fires and quickly came to a conclusion so that the device could be put back on sale. This incident has placed safety concerns regarding lithium-ion batteries back into the limelight.
The lithium-ion battery used to power the Galaxy Note 7, has actually been around for 25 years and has been powering portable devices since then. According to Qichao Hu, a former researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of SolidEnergy Systems, a battery is essentially a bomb which releases its energy in a controlled manner. But as consumer demand has increased for batteries which are smaller and longer lasting, is forcing manufacturers to push the technology. At the moment, there are safety issues with all batteries, and as you pack a higher energy density into a battery, as well as enable it to charge faster, the likelihood of an explosion is increased.
According to a US chemical company, Albemarle, prices of lithium-ion batteries have been falling 14% every year for the past 15 years. All batteries need safety mechanisms built in, which of course increases the production costs, but with the price of batteries falling, smaller manufacturers have ignored safety. However, it is unknown whether Samsung or its battery suppliers scrimped on safety when it came to the battery of the Galaxy Note 7. Tony Olson, the CEO of D2 Worldwide, has highlighted that the problem does not only lie with cheaper products as he had run tests on batteries in laptops a while back, highlighting the dangers of them catching fire. Olsen repeated the tests on other laptop batteries seven years later and he discovered that very little has changed in terms of battery safety design.