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Cellphones Hardware

Exploding Cell Phone Battery Kills 287

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the hate-when-that-happens dept.
LingNoi writes "A man in Korea was found dead at his workplace Wednesday morning and his mobile phone battery was melted in his shirt pocket. No one knows for sure yet but a doctor who examined the body said, "He sustained an injury that is similar to a burn in the left chest and his ribs and spine were broken" We have heard of other dangerous battery products here on Slashdot." Update: 11/30 17:34 GMT by Z : Turns out the melted battery was the least of his worries; he was actually hit by a truck.
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Exploding Cell Phone Battery Kills

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  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:46AM (#21506087) Homepage Journal

    An LG official confirmed its product was involved in the accident but said the company would not comment directly on the accident because the cause was not confirmed. However, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to company policy, said such a fatal explosion would be virtually impossible.

    I'd like to know just how big that battery was.

    Kim Hoon, a doctor who examined the body, said the death was probably caused by an explosion of the battery. "He sustained an injury that is similar to a burn in the left chest and his ribs and spine were broken," Yonhap news agency quoted Kim as saying.

    Broken ribs and spine? Ok, this man was found in his workplace (a quarry.) Isn't reasonable to assume something else broke those ribs and spine and whatever did that also damaged the phone and battery?

    The cell in my Razr could probably take off a finger or two if it exploded from pressure, but a spine is a rather hard thing to break, let alone ribs, unless this was a very, very small man.

    This sounds like something from The Weekly World News, the Sun or News of the World.

    Next on Fantastic Nooz: Scientist proves earth was created by asteroid collision with Moon, not the other way around. IAU rocked by the revelation and immediately reinstates Pluto as a full-fledged planet, with all rights and privileges. "Smaller bodies should have rights!", proclaim cosmologists.

  • differences (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:48AM (#21506105)
    The difference between real media and slashdot:

    "Exploding cell phone battery may have killed South Korean man: officials"
    vs
    "Exploding Cell Phone Battery Kills"

    Can anyone spot the difference in the meanings?
  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:48AM (#21506123)
    So it did nothing more than cause a burn on his chest, but the pressure was high enough to break his ribs and spine? Does anything seem odd about this?
  • Re:differences (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dintech (998802) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:50AM (#21506155)
    And be sure to click a few ads on your way out...
  • by Chris Lindquist (1181221) * on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:50AM (#21506157) Homepage
    Heck, even post notes that "No one knows for sure yet..."
  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:52AM (#21506185) Journal
    The guy worked in a quarry. He's found with broken ribs and a broken spine. Having suffered broken ribs and a broken spine, myself, I can say that it takes an *enormous* amount of force to do that. If the cellphone had exploded with sufficient force to break vertebrae, there'd be a big hole where his chest was and no sign of the cellphone.
    Much, much more likely is that he was struck by something large, that broke his back and ribs, and also crushed the cellphone, rupturing the battery compartment and making the battery melt from short-circuiting itself.

    People killed by dynamite blasts don't have broken vertebrae, even when the shock wave has torn their hearts loose from their arteries.
  • by Ogive17 (691899) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:54AM (#21506229)
    I'd have to agree with you. It doesn't seem that the mass of a battery (or a cell phone in general) would be high enough to do the damage described in the article.

    Maybe the cell phone battery exploded, he started to panic because it burned, and he fell on a table edge and broke is back.. ribs break easily so just a normal fall could cause that.
  • by ByOhTek (1181381) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:55AM (#21506243) Journal
    Very good analysis. The doctor most likely does not understand the tech involved in a cell phone battery to determine that it could explode like that.

    Given pictures/videos of exploding laptop batteries that have been shown in the past, I'm not sure one of those could even break the spine through the chest of a small child let alone adult. And using the worst case against my argument, even the larger cell phones out there (such as blackberrys, and iPhones) are the size of laptop batteries and smaller. Even if it was entirely battery, a modern phone shouldn't have this kind of force, should it?

    Here's a thought, the phone battery goes, possibly breaks the rib(s), he falls, and breaks his spine (and possibly rib(s)) in the process.
  • by matria (157464) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @11:56AM (#21506251)
    More likely a fall, which broke the ribs and spine and damaged the phone which "exploded". My husband fell in a similar situation, landed on his left side, but had his large walkie-talkie in his pocket. It cracked his ribs and destroyed the walkie-talkie; the fall would have smashed his ribs if he hadn't had it in his pocket.
  • by harrkev (623093) <kfmsd.harrelsonfamily@org> on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @12:01PM (#21506375) Homepage
    I have read (note that I am not a chemist) that the energy density of a lithium battery is close to that of the explosive in a grenade. The difference is that the grenade releases its energy all at one, while a lithium battery deliveres it a little at a time over hours/days (if all goes well).

    Note that I said energy density. This takes into account the volume, and cell phone batteries are rather small. So a cell phone battery will have a lot less energy than a grenade, just because it is smaller.

    A quick google search turned up this link. Search down for the word "grenade": http://www.fieldlines.com/story/2007/2/28/20539/1486 [fieldlines.com]

    OK. I admit that this is not an authoritative source. But, look here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density [wikipedia.org]

    The energy density of some explosives is about twice (when compared on terms of weight, not volume) that of a Lithium-ion battery. Once you add the weight of the metal around the explosive, it seems reasonable.
  • by isa-kuruption (317695) <`ten.noitpuruk' `ta' `noitpuruk'> on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @12:07PM (#21506465) Homepage
    For every force, there is an equal and opposite force...

    So the exploded battery broke his ribs and spine, but couldn't muster enough force to rip the shirt pocket? Give me a break.
  • by secPM_MS (1081961) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @12:08PM (#21506471)
    I agree. I think we have two coupled events here:

    1

    The phone battery failed causing him to fall or get in the way of something, resulting in the broken ribs and spine.

    2

    He fell or was stuck, resulting in the broken ribs and spine. The impact caused the phone battery to fail.

    2 seems far more likely than 1. Having a battery blow up in a shirt pocket and leaving a burn on my chest is not going to break my spine. An explosion in my shirt pocket that is powerful enough to break my spine is also going to blow my chest tissue off, blow my ribs into my lungs and heart, and do a lot of other damage.

  • Re:Newton's Laws? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by chmod a+x mojo (965286) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @01:02PM (#21507279)
    It may not be likely, but it is possible, perhaps he was laying on his desk for a nap... or leaning against a filing cabinet?
    not to mention fluid dynamics and pneumatics can do some very interesting thing with the force of a blast. This combined with possible poor nutrition / calcium deficiency could allow the breaks in the spine.

    Not to mention, while mythbusters may be interesting they are _NOT_ very scientific, they are a TV show and they miss quite a few possibilities. That said much of what they do test is well researched, yet they can't test all of the possibilities. Plus who is to say that some of the myths that they have "busted" could have been freak accidents, like some of the things on Ripley's believe it or not?
  • Re:Newton's Laws? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zippthorne (748122) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @01:14PM (#21507425) Journal
    Yes, you're not quite right. The magnitude of the force depends on the distance over which it is applied. Since the phone is restricted in one direction by your body, and not so much the other direction (by a flimsy shirt) the force on you is much greater.

    The momentum of the phone itself is enough. Go down to the range and practice shooting. Feel all that recoil, despite the fact that the bullet is completely unrestrained in the other direction, and a bullet has a lot less mass than the gun does.

    Now in a powerful explosion, the phone's gonna shoot off pretty fast. In some cases fast enough to rip through the shirt once it gets far enough that it takes up all the slack. Which brings to mind the question: how strong was that shirt? If it was strong enough, perhaps some kind of reinforced shirt or something, the hoop stress would be supported by the guy's back, so the shirt itself could maybe be the thing that broke the spine, rather than the shockwave. If that's the case, then there is also an easy solution: breakaway pockets.

    I'm not sure that an explosion powerful enough to break the spine would also break the shirt, because I don't know how powerful an explosion would do either. Ribs are pretty easy to crack, though. You can do it just by punching someone hard, and you will crack some if you ever have to do CPR.
  • by Technician (215283) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @02:38PM (#21508429)
    Well, it's certainly demolished. Pictures.

    Thanks for the great link. If you do failure analysis you would quickly spot from the photos that the phone didn't explode. In an explosion material is ejected at high speed. In other words, large parts of the phone should be missing, ejected with great force. The shirt has a burn. The phone shows some swelling and is a melted lump. There was no high energy explosion associated with this phone that could have cracked ribs.

    Either the man fell and damaged the battery and started a thermal runaway condition, or the phone went into thermal runaway and the man in panic collided into something either causing a fall or as the result of a fall.

    Remember for every action, there is an equal reaction in the opposite direction. For an object to explode in a shrt pocket with enough force to crack ribs, the force outward would have been equal as in a mass of the phone would have to have been ejected forward. From the photo, the phone is burnt, but intact.
  • by sm62704 (957197) on Wednesday November 28, 2007 @02:46PM (#21508549) Journal
    He was in a quarry. Seems to me the most likely scenario was he got hit by a big rock, square in the cell phone.

    That said, LG is my 3rd least favorite company, right behind Sony and Microsoft, as I had an LG phone with horrible factory defects. I returned it for a replacement, and the replacement was worse.

    So I'm conflicted in defending these guys, but I don't think this one was LG's fault.

    Come to think of it, my least favorite device would be a Sony laptop running Windows, powered by an LG battery (shudder)

    -mcgrew

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