Last year we discussed batteries - what they are, how they work, and how to not blow your peripheral limbs off with them.
Based on recent news reports, it would seem some of us didn't pay enough attention to item number three.
So I think it's appropriate we go over this again, paying particular attention to Lithium Ion batteries and their peculiarities, and how you can avoid ending up like the people in those news reports.
Lithium is the third element in the periodic table. It is a metal, is very small as far as atoms go, and is highly reactive. It is also fantastic for making batteries with because of its light weight and ability to store large amounts of energy.
Lithium-ion batteries work by the exchange of electrons. When you charge a lithium-ion battery, an extra electron is forced into orbit around the atomic nucleus, creating an atom of ionised lithium. Then, when you connect your battery to something that draws electricity, the electrons break free of the lithium atom and flow into your device.
When lithium-ion batteries turn bad
If you abuse them, the components of the lithium-ion batteries can fail, particularly the electrolyte substance. Best-case scenario is your battery just won't work anymore. Worst-case?
The most common cause of the runaway exothermic reaction (aka go boom) that can occur in LiON batteries is degradation of one or more components causing chemical reactions that shouldn't occur. This degradation is most commonly caused by excessive heat. The heat breaks down the electrolyte sheet, or the circuitry that prevents overheating, causing a chemical reaction that causes more heat, that causes more degradation, that causes more heat... until the thing flares up like a firework.
If you push too much current into a LiON battery, there will be a build-up of heat that causes degradation of the electrolyte.
If you try and draw too much power from the battery, again you will degrade the electrolyte, causing extra chemical reactions that will increase the temperature of the battery.
Operating the battery at too high a temperature will cause the components to break down, damaging the circuitry that prevents excessive temperature.
This goes for most batteries, but particularly LiON batteries. Creating a short-circuit will create a runaway heat situation that never ends well.
Stabbing it with a knife
Or any sharp object, really. Piercing the layers of anode, cathode and electrolyte will almost always result in a flare-up.
Lithium-ion batteries and e-cigs
LiON batteries have their dangers no matter what they are being used for, but e-cig owners need to be vigilant about:
We all love our massively subohm builds and giant clouds, and to get these we are going to be working with high temperatures. This is where the design of your mod is crucial - cheap knock-offs or just poorly-designed units can put the battery too close to the hot parts.
You've heard the mantra: "never charge your batteries unattended", and you'd do well to heed it. Even if you've got a proper charger with full-charge cutoff circuitry, you can't guarantee it will never fail. And even if it doesn't happen to explode in the charger, it can still explode in your pocket or your face when you fire your mod up.
I get it. We're envelope-pushers. We get the most power we can to get the biggest, most satisfying clouds. Unfortunately, dragging too much power out of a battery is a great way to destroy it and possibly bits of yourself. It is crucial that you know what your battery is capable of before using it in a mod, especially a mechanical mod.
4. Non-genuine batteries
Hard as it is to believe, there are people in this world who care more about making money than human safety and welfare. Some of them may even get cheap, poorly made LiON batteries and re-wrap them so they can sell them for a higher price. With batteries getting harder to come by these days, it is absolutely vital you make sure you are buying genuine batteries.
5. Poorly-made mods
Genuine mods are expensive for a reason - people spend hours perfecting the design and only using the best materials. As mentioned in point 1, mods need to protect the batteries by avoiding short-circuits, over-heating and over-discharge. Knock-offs from people who don't know what they are doing are dangerous because these measures may not be in place.
How to vape and not end up on the news for all the wrong reasons
The reality is that the dangers of LiON batteries failing are fairly low all things considered. As an e-cig user, follow these steps to make sure you don't add to the toll:
1. Watch your temperature
If your mod starts to feel hot to the touch, give it a rest!
2. Buy a proper mod
Don't be a cheapskate. Save that little bit extra to get a properly-made device that has the necessary protections built in. This goes double for mech mods.
3. Buy good batteries
Refer point 2. Buy from a vendor you know is responsible.
4. Buy a proper charger
It needs to have short-circuit protection and full-charge cutoff features. And "never charge your batteries unattended".
5. Buy an ohms meter.
Building your own coils? Using a mech mod? Buy an ohms meter and don't push the envelope past its limits.
6. Treat your gear with respect
Just like your dog, don't leave your mod in the car on a hot day. But unlike your dog, rolling the window down won't help.
If you drop it, inspect it for damage. And by inspect it for damage, I DON'T mean try firing it up to see if it still works. Check your mod for any broken internals (as best you can) and don't use the battery until you've checked it with a multimeter.
Store your batteries at room temperature. Don't put them in the fridge, you'll wreck them. Just don't leave them in the sun or behind the TV.
Share the love
Now you have all this wonderful knowledge, don't keep it to yourself! Make sure all your vaping friends know how to use LiON batteries safely. At the very least you'll save $30-odd at the hospital flower shop.