back to article Headphone batteries flame out mid-flight, ignite new Li-Ion fears

Travellers who favour noise-cancelling headphones should watch vendor announcements for battery recalls, because a pair has caught fire on a China-to-Australia flight. A woman suffered burns to her hands and face when her headphones' batteries exploded. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has raised the alarm on lithium …

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Hurray for wireless earpods!

Or maybe not. Maybe I'll stick with headphones that take alkaline AAs.

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But a 14KW Power Wall...

... in your living room is perfectly safe.

Yes, alkaline AAs are a great idea

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Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

Well, just thank God that Elon Musk isn't in the headphone business.

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Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

A power wall doesn't have the same weight constraints as portable gadgets, so more safety features can be incorporated in it. It is certainly in Musk's business interests to ensure no power walls cause a fire.

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Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

A power wall doesn't have the same weight constraints as portable gadgets, so more safety features can be incorporated in it.

Given that even NASA's lithium batteries explode, I'd be very surprised by any "magic sauce" claimed by a commercial battery maker working down to a cost. I was at a trade working group a few months back, and the head chemist of a major battery company expressed the view that any high power density storage system is at high risk of unpleasant failure modes. It is also worth bearing in mind that the fault or failure doesn't have to be intrinsic to the battery - if you have a house or car fire, a battery storage device may go up through no fault of its own.

And personally, it isn't the fire from batteries that worry me, it is the combustion fumes, containing all manner of unpleasantness. If you want a Powerwall or any battery storage system, I'd recommend having it somewhere outside the house.

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Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

Since the history of batteries is pretty much putting some of the most caustic substances in a small container probably not, even the ones that do not spontaneously catch fire usually could leak materials that should not be touched.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

Higher risk of catastophic failure of Li-ion batteries is not driven by weight saving, but by the number of recharge cycles, speed of recharging and cost saving. All of these just a much for Musk's powerwall buisness as a headphone manfacturer.

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Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

> Given that even NASA's lithium batteries explode, I'd be very surprised by any "magic sauce" claimed by a commercial battery maker working down to a cost

Again, NASA, like Boeing and Samsung, have to consider weight. If you don't have that constraint you can make your Li-ion battery less power dense and with no danger of the cells being overly compressed (which is what did for Samsung's Note). It's not a 'magic sauce' as you put it, it's just that you have more space to treat the Li-ion cells the way they want to be treated.

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Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

> Higher risk of catastophic failure of Li-ion batteries is not driven by weight saving, but by the number of recharge cycles, speed of recharging and cost saving

The Samsung Note issue was caused by trying to squeeze a battery into a space too small. If you don't have to carry a battery around (mobile phones, Boeing APU,electric car etc) then you can ease off on the volume constraints, and hey, even fit fire retardant barriers between individual cells or have a cooling system - whatever. Having space and weight to spare allows for a lot of engineering solutions.

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Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

it isn't the fire from batteries that worry me, it is the combustion fumes, containing all manner of unpleasantness. If you want a Powerwall or any battery storage system, I'd recommend having it somewhere outside the house.
Dunno why you were downvoted on that one ledswinger. Excellent advice. Presumably a Powerwall installed in a safe place wouldn't be so effective in signalling how virtuous you are.

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Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

Dunno why you were downvoted on that one ledswinger.

No worries, Sir. I've added that to the preceding 5,981 downvotes I have, and I'm looking forward to breaking the 6k barrier soon. But since my cumulative upvotes are pushing 27k, I think the balance is reasonably favourable.

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Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

@Dave 126 - NASA and Boeing are concerned about weight as extra weight in spacecraft and planes means more fuel must be burned adding to the operation costs. Thus, they might get to zealous in reducing the battery weight. Samsung's fiasco has to do more with aesthetics. Very thin smartphones and tablets are in and this puts a constraint on the available space for a battery pack. Less space than was ideal for the battery pack. Phones and tablets are normally carried in a pocket, backpack, purse, etc. and they do not weigh that much even the heaviest ones. So weight is not the real issue as a couple of extra grams is meaningless in almost all situations. But everyone wants the thinnest possible device for their top end devices.

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Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

Should be sited like a propane tank -- away from the house and in an area that's not got flammable material around it.

If you need one to show off indoors then I daresay Mr. Musk will sell you a dummy.

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Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

If you need one to show off indoors then I daresay Mr. Musk will sell you a dummy.
And if he won't, I'm sure some enterprising person will manufacture cheap fakes in his backyard shed for a shitload less money than the real thing :-)

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Re: But a 14KW Power Wall...

I'm sure some enterprising person will manufacture cheap fakes in his backyard shed for a shitload less money than the real thing

95% of the benefits of the real thing, 5% of the cost.

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Poor girl, burns to her face and her eyes got pixelated !!!

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and her eyes got pixelated !!!
That was from the terrible singing she was listening to...

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"That was from the terrible singing she was listening to..."

She looks a bit singed. : -)

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I imagine it's quite a traumatic experience, having your face burnt off. Especially, given society's expectations, for a woman.

Publishing a photo for the sake of a few taudry Ad revenue clicks and so that commentards can make jokes seems a bit tasteless.

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Actually, the photo reassured me that she didn't receive any permanent injuries. She was singed, as per the article.

I can't blame you for not studying the photo more closely if you're the squeamish type, though.

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Anonymous Coward

RE: photo

Publishing a photo for the sake of a few taudry Ad revenue clicks and so that commentards can make jokes seems a bit tasteless.

Given that...

(a) the photo is directly relevant to the article,

(b) was sourced from an official organisation (the ATSB),

(c) is being used on other outlets which aren't ad-driven (e.g. BBC website), and

(d) the number of downvotes you've accumulated in a fairly short space of time....

I think it's safe to say you're being a bit oversensitive and, dare I say it, being unneccesarily offended on somebody else's behalf

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"face burnt off"

Where does it say that?

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Anonymous Coward

"burns to her face and her eyes got pixelated"

If *that's* what causes pixelation, I can only suggest that your average Japanese porn star needs to invest in more lube to cut down on friction burns where it obviously hurts...

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Coat

She was definitely singed at.

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Re: RE: photo

Well said, AC. I hate it when people take offence on others' behalf.

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Looks like she also grew an instantaneous beard as well, poor girl :(

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Scary. Really.

Had she left them powered on and stowed them above or below, this could have been much worse.

--->> appropriate<?>:)

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Re: Scary. Really.

Possibly, or it could have been the fact that she lent her head onto them in such a manner that caused the battery compartment to be deformed a bit, causing the battery to short internally. In this case it wouldn't matter if they were turned on or not.

100% speculation of course.

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Rude awakening at 30,000ft

Now if only you could still take bottles of water aboard....

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Re: Rude awakening at 30,000ft

Since when have we been unable to take bottles of water onto an aircraft? I appreciate you were trying to make a funny out of the whole "no (*) liquids through security" thing, but it'd be a rare international airport that didn't either have airside shops selling water, or airside facilities for getting drinking water (water fountains, dedicated drinking water taps etc.) from which you could refill an empty bottle taken through security.

(*) certain exemptions aside, please read the small print for details before travelling, E&OE etc.

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Re: Rude awakening at 30,000ft

> airside shops selling water...

for a price making HP printer ink look cheap, yes.

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Re: Rude awakening at 30,000ft

The staff used buckets of water - probably more than 100ml. Although I wonder why they didn't carry fire extinguishers on board?

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Re: Rude awakening at 30,000ft

SOP for a L-Ion battery fire actually IS to douse it with plenty of cold water. Since the fire is the result of a thermal runaway, you want to stop the runaway reaction. Since the lithium in an L-Ion battery is in compound form, it won't react to the water.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Rude awakening at 30,000ft

Dubai Airport shops sell 500 ml for a dirham. About a third of what you would pay on the street here in Toronto. As a bonus, today it would be ice.

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Re: Rude awakening at 30,000ft

but it'd be a rare international airport that didn't either have airside shops selling water

Like Dubai International?

Bought 2 hideously expensive small bottles to take on a flight to Melbourne last year, in transit from the UK. Got stopped and told I couldn't take them onboard. ISTR that they also stopped others from taking various bottles of liquid on board too.

Not my favourite airport after they'd threatened to confiscate a rather expensive radio beforehand claiming it was a 'walkie talkie'. (Actually it was a HF/VHF/UHF licensed transceiver, but they were quite forceful in their 'no walkie talkie' rhetoric)

I ended up ripping the internal battery pack out and tossing it at them. They seemed relatively happy that it wouldn't work then, and let me through.. seemingly oblivious that in the second 'security tray' was a 96Wh lifepro4 battery and cables that I was going to use with the radio on holiday anyway.. HoHum...

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Re: Rude awakening at 30,000ft

The joys of travelling with an FT-817....I've not had any problems within the EU or US (In fact I hand-carried an FT-897 I purchased in the US back to the UK)

I flew to Taiwan a couple of weeks ago and deliberately took a cheapo DMR radio to play with GB7HR prior to flying because I was a bit worried about overzealous security and didn't want to lose a Moto handie. It's stupid.

_._

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I'm putting a bet....

..on it being nothing to do with the batteries, but cheap arse nasty wiring.

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Mushroom

Re: I'm putting a bet....

I'd point at the batteries.

The manufacturers aim for less weight (and size, and cost) by not putting a proper case around the cell. In low pressure environments (like an aircraft cabin pressurised to around 12000ft) the internals exert more force on the shell of the cell and it then ruptures, exposing the lithium bits to air with this outcome.

That's why it happens more on planes than elsewhere.

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Re: I'm putting a bet....

If the batteries were quality, they would have had protection circuits built in. If the wiring was cheap it would have just melted like fuse-wire (a protection in itself). From the photo I'd say that battery went up properly.

I can't help noticing she was flying from China... If she bought herself a present of some new headphones over there, who knows what she was wearing (she certainly wouldn't!).

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Re: I'm putting a bet....

Only reason I say wiring (or circuit components)

"because there was still sparking and “small amounts of fire”"

I may be wrong, but I wouldn't expect sparking from a battery issue.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm putting a bet....

A battery would do that. Take a LiPo battery, what this would have been to get the size down, start to bend it, it will start to spark, small puffs of smoke will start happening, if it was charged enough it would then cause a chain reaction causing the rest of the cell to start going up.

Do what was don't on the plane, stamp on it, damage the cell more, cause more shorts in the cell, cause soaking and smoke.

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Re: I'm putting a bet....

One wonders if the residents of places like La Paz also suffer higher than average rates of battery fires, given their similarly lofty altitude...

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Re: I'm putting a bet....

"Do what was don't on the plane, stamp on it, damage the cell more, cause more shorts in the cell, cause soaking and smoke."

Sorry can you rephrase that?

Are you saying "Don't do what was done on the plane"?

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WTF?

Re: I'm putting a bet....

Aircraft interiors are maintained to the equivalent of 8.000 feet ASL. My home in VietNam is at 4,500 feet ASL.

Likely air pressure had little to do with 'ears on fire'.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm putting a bet....

Do what was done on the plane, stamp on it, damage the cell more, cause more shorts in the cell, cause sparking and smoke.

Crappy autocorrect and word prediction for swypey type keyboard.

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Re: I'm putting a bet....

One wonders if the residents of places like La Paz also suffer higher than average rates of battery fires, given their similarly lofty altitude...

The rapid change in altitude is likely a factor in the battery's ignition, so unless the residents of La Paz are in the habit of helicoptering or teleporting from sea level, probably not a worry.

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Selfish reason

Hope they weren't made by Bose!

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Re: Selfish reason

It's described as a "China - Australia" flight, so maybe an Alibaba-special "bargain" bought in the duty free before departure?

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Re: Selfish reason

"It's described as a "China - Australia" flight, so maybe an Alibaba-special "bargain" bought in the duty free before departure?"

So, a literal case of 'buy cheap, get burned', then?

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Re: Selfish reason

Hope they weren't made by Bose

or Sony, I am fond of mine and for the cost I would be very very unhappy (quite apart from the involuntary face modifications)

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