Nothing grabs the public’s attention like a sensational headline–and it’s hard to get more sensational than exploding e-cigarettes. It has it all: danger, drama and the ability to demonize an entire industry. All of these sensational headlines have a cumulative effect in leading people to wonder, “How safe are e-cigarette batteries?”
In order to get a more accurate idea of e-cigarette battery safety, you must look deeper than the headline; it’s necessary to ask more questions. In order to fully understand the technology of electronic cigarettes, we must first establish a baseline of knowledge and a common language when it comes to the batteries that power them. To understand the differences between the batteries used to power electronic cigarettes, let’s take a look at the two basic categories of electronic cigarette design: mods verses cig-a-likes.
Lithium-Ion vs. Lithium Polymer Batteries: Which is Safer for E-Cigs?
Electronic cigarette mods, also known as tank systems or advanced personal vaporizers (APVs), have become very popular vaping devices with their large, flashy designs combined with their ability to produce large amounts of vapor. If you have ever seen someone using an e-cigarette that was producing voluminous amounts of vapor and wondered what could be creating that indoor cumulous cloud, then you have seen a mod. This type of e-cig tends to appeal to people looking for more of a hobby or lifestyle commitment. From voltage and wattage settings to a seemingly endless amount of flavor options, mods offer a tremendous amount of customization; however, this customization does create the need for more consumer knowledge and accountability than its cig-a-like counterpart. Mod users tend to be hobbyists who are very into the technology of the product, enjoy the almost limitless flavor options, and have a strong desire to create large clouds of vapor. In fact, many mod enthusiasts use very little to no nicotine in their devices.
Cig-a-likes, on the other hand, have been around since the very beginning of the vaping movement and still remain popular among the vaping community. They are primarily designed to be safe and effective nicotine delivery systems. Unlike mods, cig-a-likes tend to be much smaller in size with close resemblance to tobacco cigarettes. They are also very simple in function and discreet to use, and they are often the entry point for those who still want to enjoy nicotine without the use of tobacco.
Now that we have touched upon the two main categories of electronic cigarette devices, we need to dig into the differences between the two types of batteries used to power them: lithium-ion and lithium polymer. Lithium-ion batteries are often used to power mods, and lithium polymer batteries are used to power cig-a-likes.
Related: Vaporizers, Cig-A-Likes, Vape Pens and Mods: A Vaper’s Glossary
The Dangers of Using Lithium-Ion Batteries in E-Cigs
The lithium-ion battery is a popular rechargeable battery commonly used to power portable devices, power tools and electric vehicles. Lithium-ion batteries are hermetically sealed in a steel casing. Along with mechanical durability, low cost and availability add to the benefits of using lithium-ion batteries in electronic cigarette devices; however, it is the rigid design that poses the greatest hazard.
When a lithium-ion battery experiences a failure involving overheating, there is no place for the built-up energy to vent. This extreme venting eventually leads to a catastrophic failure or explosion, turning that rigid steel casing into shrapnel. There are three scenarios that could lead a lithium-ion battery to catastrophic failure: Overcharging, over-discharging, and environmental or mechanical damage.
Charging a lithium-ion battery is a three-step process involving pre-conditioning, constant current, and a final constant voltage to top off the charge. The last two steps of the charging process are where the potential for failure lies. If the charger and the battery are not properly combined for compatibility, the battery becomes susceptible to overcharging, which then results in overheating and the potential for catastrophic failure.
In a mechanical mod style e-cigarette, the battery is directly linked to the heater. There is no regulation between the two, meaning there is no safety switch: it is either on or off. If something triggers the device, such as being improperly set down on the activation button, the battery becomes engaged and will continually run until it eventually overheats to the point of catastrophic failure.
There is also no uniformity to the amount of discharge the battery will go through in any particular mod: the ability for customization of a mechanical mod allows the user to determine the length, materials and gauge of the heating coil. Therefore, two users could have the same mod powered by the same batteries, but if they each have a different heater coil set up, the reaction of their batteries may be wildly different in the case of an extreme current discharge.
Lithium-ion batteries are also susceptible to environmental or mechanical damage. Accidents happen; they are a normal, inevitable part of life. If you drop a glass, chances are it’s going to break. If you puncture, crack or break a lithium-ion battery, it could result in a sudden massive discharge and eventually explode.
Lithium-ion batteries have a very high-power density in each cell, which is one of the reasons they became so popular and are used in so many devices. However, very few technological devices powered by lithium-ion batteries are used in such close proximity to the face and hands, nor are they stored on your body. For example; if a remote control car experiences a catastrophic failure, odds are it won’t be in your mouth. Therefore, consumer education is key when using lithium-ion batteries to power electronic cigarette devices. It’s important to find a brand you can trust—one that can offer the safest battery recommendations for your device.
Lithium Polymer Batteries and E-Cigs
The Lithium Polymer, or LiPo, battery is the second style of battery used in e-cigarettes, and is the only type of battery used in White Cloud products. The biggest difference between lithium-ion and lithium polymer batteries is the packaging.
LiPos are encased in a soft packaging, which makes them lighter and less rigid than lithium-ion batteries. LiPo batteries can also experience failure, however the consequences are not explosive due to the soft packaging. Instead of overheating with no means for the heat to escape, the soft encasement changes in physical dimension resulting in a breach of the packaging and a slow venting of heat. Therefore, in the event of a LiPo battery failure, the encasement simply begins to melt, rather than explode.
Imagine a soda can with its rigid design: if a can of soda is shaken, the pressure of the carbonated beverage inside will increase and create high pressure resulting in diminishing the integrity of the can. At this stage, any breach of the can will have explosive results. Now take that same volume of soda and put it into an elastic container such as a balloon: the soft design of a balloon allows it to expand and accommodate the pressure. This is, admittedly, a very simple analogy; but it is not without merit. In addition to the actual design of the LiPo battery, the electronic design also contributes to its failure prevention.
The electronic design of White Cloud batteries includes an automatic “safety switch” between the battery and the heater. This switch prevents over-discharge of the battery.
The Future of Lithium Polymer Batteries
By now, you may be wondering, “If LiPo batteries are safer and have a similar power capacity to lithium-ion batteries, why don’t mod products use them?” The answer is very simple: cost. LiPo batteries are produced in lower quantities to lithium-ion batteries, thus they are higher in cost when compared to the mass-produced lithium-ion batteries. Therefore, it would be unrealistic for a “mod” manufacturer to produce LiPo batteries, as the high cost would be passed along to the consumer, resulting in a markedly higher price point than the current cost of mods. In addition, lithium-ion batteries are not only readily available but are also familiar to users and are easy to design a product around. When used properly, lithium-ion batteries are perfectly safe; however, the penalty for misuse, abuse or ignorance is severe.
In the past, lithium-ion batteries had a higher power density than lithium polymer batteries, but that is no longer the case. Lithium-ion batteries are not evolving in the same manner as LiPos batteries. In many ways, lithium-ion batteries are becoming an antiquated technology when compared to the continued advancements in technology today. More and more lithium polymer batteries are being produced to power such devices as tablets, cell phones and any other device requiring a thin and flexible high-capacity battery. This level of innovation means LiPo technology will only continue to grow, which is great news for vapers since a move away from lithium-ion batteries would greatly improve the safety of e-cigarettes from a technological standpoint.