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Why can computers, mobile phones or tablets explode?

The fire of a tablet with keyboard on Monday in the Madrid subway has caused panic scenes and has forced to dislodge the train, interrupting the traffic on line 9 and serve nine people for anxiety and three by inhalation of smoke, although in a mild way.

The device belonged to a university student who was going to class, but the thick smoke that began to detach led several passengers to operate the emergency lever.

The fact that the fire occurred in the metro amplified the consequences, but this type of events are not new. Last July, a cell phone burned inside an airplane still on the ground in Barcelona and forced the evacuation of passengers.

Tablets, as well as mobile phones and laptops, use lithium batteries that, under certain conditions, can overheat, catch fire or explode.

The explosions of these batteries are very striking but “anecdotal” compared to the number of these devices on the market.

This has been explained to Efe by the researcher at the Scientific Research Council (CSIC) Ricardo Jiménez, who believes that the technology incorporated in this type of battery is “very safe” and that its probability of deflagration is “very low”.

Lithium batteries have been in the market for half a decade, they are used where there is a need for “lots of power and little space”, which is why, in addition to intelligent devices, they also incorporate it from bicycles and electric skateboards to a cordless drill.

Its explosion occurs when there is a manufacturing failure or has been generated by a blow. This causes that the energy does not circulate properly and a hot point is generated in which the energy is accumulated and that is the one that perforates it and generates the deflagration, that usually “is a soft explosion” and never “violently like a pot under pressure, “he says.

When this type of incident occurs, what is burned is all the plastic material of the device, which generates a bad smell.

Although the technology of these batteries “is very safe” and all the batteries are tested before being commercialized, this type of incidents have begun to appear for bringing the devices “to the limit”.

“If you have 200,000 amps in a square meter, you are pushing technology hard and everything has its limits”, explains the scientist about the dynamics of the sector, which for years has tended to reduce space and increase performance.

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