CPSC Advises Voluntary Industry Standards for Rechargeable Batteries Inadequate

On January 23, 2017, Samsung announced that poorly designed and manufactured batteries are to blame for the fires associated with its Galaxy Note 7 phones.

The announcement comes after months of investigation by Samsung and three independent industry organizations. The investigation revealed problems with both the batteries that were originally used in the phone during its launch in August, as well as the batteries that were later used as replacements.

According to the results of the investigation, the outer casing for the first battery – manufactured by Samsung SDI – was too small to accommodate the internal components, allowing the components to short circuit and overheat. The second battery – manufactured by Amperex Technology – suffered from other design defects and a missing key component.
Samsung discontinued the Note 7 last year and agreed to recall 1.9 million phones after negotiations with the Consumer Product Safety Commission following several reports of the phones catching fire. Despite the worldwide recall, some customers have refused to stop using the phones.

On January 24, 2017, the CPSC, which is conducting its own investigation, issued a press release, stating that the industry’s voluntary standards for the design and manufacture of rechargeable batteries aren’t adequate. Those standards were first developed in 2006 and haven’t been revised since 2011. According to the press release, the CPSC and Samsung are working with the industry to “take a fresh look” at the standards.

“Industry needs to learn from this experience and improve consumer safety by putting more safeguards in place during the design and manufacturing stages to ensure that technologies run by lithium-ion batteries deliver their benefits without the serious safety risks,” CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye stated in the release.

The current investigation by the CPSC is just the latest in a series of investigations raising concerns about the safety of lithium-ion batteries. The batteries are attractive to manufacturers because they hold power more efficiently and last longer than other power packs. However, they have also raised safety concerns because the chemicals inside the batteries hold so much energy that a failure can result in a fire or even a small explosion.

We will continue to monitor and blog about updates from the CPSC’s efforts to work with manufacturers to implement updated standards.

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