Batteries used in e-cigarettes, vapes, toys and flashlight lights are a possible fire risk, says a warning issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). As such, the Commission is working with e-tailers like eBay to remove listings of loose 18650 cells.
These cells are likely to have exposed metal positive and negative terminals that can short-circuit when they come in contact with metal objects, such as keys or loose change in a pocket. The agency says that once shorted, loose cells can overheat and experience thermal runaway, igniting the cell’s internal materials and forcibly expelling burning contents, resulting in fires, explosions, serious injuries and even death.
Reports point out that a teenager was killed last year after his vape exploded in his face and a piece of shrapnel punctured an artery. Even the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was grounded for a time after a lithium battery fire issue. The common factor in these incidents is the dramatic failures of lithium-ion batteries.
George Kerchner, executive director of The Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA), said an 18650 is slightly larger than a AA battery. “They are lithium-ion products that are robust cells that have a stainless steel can so they can withstand the rigors of outdoor power equipment. The batteries intended use is in electric vehicles and power tools, and not devices that consumers can modify and put into their mouths,” Kerchner explained.
LG Chem, one of the companies that makes 18650 cells, asked distributors of e-cigarette equipment in a late 2018 letter to stop selling them. It warned that individual consumer use and handling that could lead to severe burns and disfigurement. Mobile phone companies, mainly Samsung and Sony, have also warned consumers against using the cells. The 18650 batteries are often used in certain types of electronic cigarettes called mechanical mods, which are specialized vaping devices that do not have an internal safety circuitry.
The CPSC said the cells are often misused as a stand-alone consumer battery, but do not have protection circuits. Reports highlight 18650 cells as larger, higher density and are often used in more heavy-duty commercial settings, and even power Tesla’s Model X and Model S vehicles.