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Why are the recalled Samsung phones exploding?

Because of 35 international incidents reported to Samsung about the Galaxy Note 7 overheating, the South Korean company recalled the new smart phone. Every single one of the nearly 1 million Note 7 phones that were sold before Sept. 15 were recalled, and since then, the complaints about overheating and other issues have quadrupled. So why are these phones overheating and sometimes bursting into flames?

As Samsung asks their customers to return the Note 7 for a refund or a different model, they’re working to solve the problem: the lithium ion battery. These kinds of batteries are very common and the issues they come with are well-known – there have been many recalls in the past: Nokia, Apple and other Samsung phones like the Galaxy Core. They’re even used in laptops, hoverboards and a Boeing aircraft.

It’s all in the battery

The liquid inside of the lithium ion battery packs is very flammable. So if a battery short-circuits and a puncture appears between the thin, plastic separator between the positive and negative side of the battery, the liquid hearts up. If it heats up fast enough, the phone can start smoking, flaming or explode.

The industry continues to use these kinds of batteries, though, because they’re smaller, lighter and can provide a lot of power compared to other battery types. And because Samsung tried to make the phone smaller than before, pressure on the battery cells caused the negative and positive sides to easily contact each other.

Not common, but very dangerous

According to a Samsung official, the battery defect is in only about 0.01 percent of the smart phones – that comes out to around 1,000 defective phones. And although that means it’s a very small manufacturing error, the severity of the phone’s potential damage still makes it dangerous enough to avoid. Within the first month of sale, 112 phones had caught fire in the U.S., Korea, Australia and Taiwan.

What’s next for Samsung and batteries?

Although there are theories about the true cause of the explosions as experts and agencies continue to investigate, Samsung insists that its customers return the phones as soon as possible to prevent any personal injury or fires. You can either exchange the phone for a good alternative, or take a refund. Samsung began stocking replacement devices yesterday, Sept. 21. If you bought your phone after Sept. 15, you should be clear to use it.

Manufacturers could try the alternative magnesium-ion battery, which could provide more power and cost less while being more stable. However, it doesn’t look like they’ll be a viable option within the next two years, or even the next decade.

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