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HALT AND CATCH FIRE: BATTERY WOES GO WELL BEYOND SAMSUNG

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Samsung’s Note 7 isn’t the only gadget to catch fire thanks to lithium-battery problems, which have afflicted everything from iPhones to Tesla cars to Boeing jetliners. Blame chemistry and the fact that the batteries we rely on for everyday life are prone to leaking and even bursting into flame if damaged, defective or exposed to excessive heat.That’s because lithium-ion batteries store a lot of energy in a tiny space, with combustible components separated by ultra-thin walls. If something happens to those separators, a chemical reaction can quickly escalate out of control.

Samsung hasn’t specified exactly what caused the fires that led to the recall of 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7s Thursday beyond calling it a “battery cell issue .” Still, lithium batteries are so ubiquitous that ordinary users of phones and computers shouldn’t worry. Research suggests that you’re more likely to get hurt by a kitchen grease fire or a drunk driver than the battery powering your iPhone, Kindle or laptop. “It’s not like we live in a world where people’s smartphones spontaneously combust,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager of research firm IDC’s mobile phones team. He said owners of Galaxy Note 7s should err on the side of caution and contact Samsung for a replacement that doesn’t run the same risk. Here’s a look at other notable incidents when lithium batteries by themselves or in electronics have caused problems.

ON AIRPLANES

There have been dozens of aircraft fires caused by lithium batteries, so many that the batteries are no longer welcome as cargo on passenger flights. In one of the most recent incidents, a Fiji Airways Boeing 737 was preparing for takeoff from Melbourne, Australia, when smoke was discovered coming from the cargo bay. The plane was evacuated and the cargo unloaded. The source of the fire turned out to be lithium-ion batteries in a passenger’s checked bags. Hoverboards and e-cigarettes are banned from flights for the same reason.

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