Lithium-ion (Li-ion) is the most commonly used rechargeable battery type in small consumer electronics today. But as demands for smaller devices continue to grow, so does the awareness around the shortcomings of this popular chemistry—namely its propensity to catch fire.
Li-ion batteries are classified as hazardous. And as such, stringent regulations regarding their handling and transporting have recently been passed. These new guidelines are incredibly timely, too. In 2017, The Federal Aviation Administration reported that a Li-ion battery fire grounds one U.S. flight every 10 days on average.
While the new regulations are intended to ensure the safety of those who come into contact with Li-ion, they can cause logistical challenges. And, they could introduce new costs and complexities that negatively impact electronics manufacturers using Li-ion batteries.
Risk of damaged battery inventory
When shipped by air, all Li-ion batteries packed by themselves in bulk (meaning not contained in other equipment) must be shipped under a 30 percent State of Charge (SoC). This is potentially problematic because the batteries could enter a deep discharge state during transportation or while sitting on the shelf, possibly damaging them beyond recovery and impacting device performance upon installation. If device manufacturers are not diligent about inventory aging, they may be left with an unreliable battery inventory.
Stringent training requirements
All shipping personnel are required to take a training course on how to package Li-ion batteries every three years—two for those who ship by air. Employees must complete training before they can ship the batteries, and they may also be required to obtain a Class 9 hazardous goods certification. This can cause workflow strains and delays because not only must you ensure employees are continuously trained, but only those who are qualified can handle the batteries.
Supply chain setbacks
When a Li-ion-powered device needs returning for repair because of a battery issue, it cannot, under any circumstances, be shipped by air. It must be returned by ground or sea. This can lead to a longer supply chain, delayed repair time and, ultimately, unhappy customers. Especially when manufacturers are located overseas, or it’s a medical or military device needing speedy repair and return.
With these challenges in mind, let's consider a broader concern: When we rely on our small electronic devices more than ever, are the Li-ion batteries powering them really the best option?
Electronics manufacturers need a less regulated microbattery
One such rechargeable alternative is already available: Silver-zinc. Because of its aqueous chemistry that poses no risk of fire or overheating, silver-zinc is a non-flammable, safer option that doesn’t have the same burdensome regulatory complexities of Li-ion:
- It can be shipped at-will, globally, with no special packaging
- It’s not subject to hazardous goods regulations
- It’s not subject to SoC shipping requirements or consumer travel restrictions
Given the issues with Li-ion, it’s important that we continue exploring alternate battery types. Because to keep logistical complexities to a minimum and best serve consumers, better and safer alternatives are necessary industry wide.