Batteries can catch fire in the most unusual ways – iPhone 6 bent in half, catches fire in mans pants

In the electric car field we’re worried about public perception of electric car safety.  Despite the fact there’s over 200,000 gasoline car fires per year in the U.S. alone, causing hundreds of fatalities and property damage costs, there is inordinately outsized attention paid to the very small number of electric car fires.  On the one hand gasoline powered cars are carrying a tank of explosive liquid, and it’s automaker engineering prowess preventing there being more gas car fires.  Since electric vehicles don’t carry explosive liquids, they’re supposedly safer, but obviously batteries can catch on fire.

On October 11, 2014, Phillip Lechter reports that he and his family had gone to Tuscon, AZ for the Univ. of Arizona family weekend and football games.  He was carrying a brand new iPhone 6 in his pants pocket.  While riding in a bicycle-drawn-richshaw he says the rickshaw driver accidentally tipped over while crossing trolley tracks.  That caused Mr. Lechter to wedge himself against the rickshaw frame such that not only did his iPhone 6 bend in half – it caught on fire, in his pants, causing bad burns, etc.

It comes on the heels of the whole iPhone 6 bendgate problem.  Being an iPhone 6 owner, I’ve studied the design and understand the flaw.  You can see it in this picture clearly – there are buttons on the side for adjusting volume etc.  Follow the crease to the top of the phone, and see the bit of silver button stuff sticking out the top?  That’s the button in question.  The iPhone 6 case is weaker at that point than elsewhere in its structure.

For years Apple has been chasing a thinner-is-better design model.  But, really, I don’t want structural integrity to be sacrificed on the altar of thinness.  You hear me Apple?  You’ve taken thinness too far!

Let’s get back to battery pack safety.

The battery pack on this phone caught fire, and you can see the burns Mr. Lechter suffered over on his blog post.  There’s nothing flammable (that I know of) on an iPhone just as there’s not much flammable on-board an electric car.  How, then, can electric cars or iPhones catch fire?

It’s the energy in the battery pack which, if released “correctly”, can cause fire.  I’ve experienced this myself.  It’s absolutely amazing when you accidentally touch battery terminals with a wrench, the blinding flash of light, and how quickly the wrench vaporizes.

For this iPhone, as for the Tesla Model S fires last year, all that’s required is battery terminals shorting out.  One look at that phone tells you the battery got shorted somewhere.  The release of energy would have caused heat, igniting something to cause an actual fire.

In the case of the Tesla Model S fires, Tesla Motors sent instructions to all Model S’s to increase the ride height and then developed a new titanium shield decreasing the risk that battery packs would be skewered by road debris.  How will Apple mitigate this risk?

By the way – “cell phone catches fire in mans pants” incidents have been happening for years.

In fact – In February 2014 an incident occurred to a teenage girl at school.  Her iPhone was in her back pocket, and when sitting down she heard a crack/pop after which the phone caught on fire.  That phone was at most an iPhone 5s so we can’t attribute the fire to weak structural integrity.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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  1. Pingback: Hoverboards catching fire runs risk of destroying their potential contribution to transit problems | The Long Tail Pipe

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