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Thread: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

  1. #1
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    Default If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    I have two unprotected 18650 batteries that I would like to use, but having read up on these (on CPF), I am a little worried that something drastic might possibly happen ... It seems that most of the problems occur when the batteries are in the charger, perhaps when the owner has left them alone (charging) too long ... Or in multiple cell devices where one cell has been more discharged than the others.

    I only want to use these cells in a torch ... Not a super-power torch, only my Saik SA-8, my Solarforce L2i (lengthened), my Solarforce L2 (not yet received) or my recently ordered Romisen RC-U4 ... None of these torches is what I would call a super-power torch ... So, now I don't know what to do ... My charger is a Ultrafire WF-137 single cell charger.

    Surely if the unprotected cells are as dangerous as people say (on CPF) then they should not be sold for using in torches ... I know that these cells are used in Laptop Computers and that there have been problems there, but that is in a system using multiple cells ... I have a friend with a laptop and it is continuously plugged into the mains when in use ... It is rarely (if ever) used on batteries alone, in fact I doubt whether it would work now on its batteries ... She doesn't use it often so it only gets used a couple of times a week for an hour or so each time ... It is now about nine years old and apparently still performs as she wants it to ... If this Laptop is using these problem cells then perhaps she has just been very lucky so far ... Sometimes though, she leaves the laptop on for a few days just to charge the batteries ... She is in her seventies and won't listen when I have told her to use it instead on battery only ... Perhaps I should tell her about these dangers ?

    The two unprotected Ultrafire (blue) 18650s as yet uncharged by me, are both reading 3.69 volts according to my old Avo 8 ... My two Ultrafire (grey) which were charged yesterday are reading 3.7 volts ... I can't guarantee the absolute accuracy of the old analogue meter ... Since I have just received the blue (unprotected) ones, is it safe to fully charge them now ? ... When I use them in a torch, do I estimate when they should be recharged or do I have to bring the torches into my study regularly just to measure the voltage ? ... Do I wait till the LED torches containing the unprotected cells are starting to go dim before recharging ? ... At least with the protected ones there should be a point at which the LED goes out but still leaves the battery safe (I think).

    Perhaps someone could point me to the best thread that covers these queries ... Maybe with reference voltages giving predicted remaining power in the cell ... There may be other relative newbies that are also a bit worried about the transition from old battery technology to these new (to us) cells.

    I hope this thread makes some sense to the advanced torch user ... "We newbies got to start somewhere".

    Many Thanks.

  2. #2

    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Car are dangerous.

    Mountain bikes are dangerous.

    Matches are dangerous.

    Fireworks are dangerous.

    Angle grinders are dangerous.

    But yet they are all still on sale.

    BUT they are all only dangerous if they are improperly used - the same applies to 18650's - if they are used properly they are almost perfectly safe - if misused then they are going to bite you in the ass.

    People need to take some personal responsibilty over the products they are using. You can't legislate for stupidity - think of it as natural selection.
    Fenix TA30, Quark 1232 Ti, Quark AA2, Quark 1232 Turbo, MiNi AA NW, MiNi CR2, ITP A3 EOS, MG PLI, MG L-Mini II, Romisen RC-N3 II, Romisen RC-A4 II, Akoray K-106 (x2), Akoray K-109.

  3. #3
    Flashaholic* Niconical's Avatar
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Check the voltage before charging and after charging.
    Charge them away from anything that might go
    The moment you notice a dimming of output, remove and charge. (Ideally earlier than that though).

    As for the laptop batteries, the cells are unprotected, but the battery pack is not. A protected cell (like from AW) is a cell, with a protection circuit added. A laptop battery is a bunch of cells with a protection circuit covering them all.

    Voltage/remaining capacity - A rough guide, not a set-in-stone rule.

    4.2V = Full
    4.1V = 90%
    4.0V = 80%
    3.9V = 60%
    3.8V = 40%
    3.7V = 20%
    3.6V = Empty
    (voltage is measured open circuit, the DMM leads on the poles with no load on the battery)

    (Not my figures, copied from another thread).


  4. #4
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Hello March.brown,

    Batteries store energy, and stored energy, under the right circumstances, can be dangerous.

    Most people use Li-Ion batteries in devices that are designed around them, and the circuits in these devices have protection built in to insulate the average user from the dangers associated with the batteries. Taking some single cells and putting them into use in a flashlight that does not have these safety circuits designed into it exposes the user to an additional level of danger.

    When you use cells that have a protection circuit built in, you still have to be cautious with their use, but when you use bare cells, you are the protection circuit. There is nothing backing up your decisions, and if you make the wrong decisions, there can be consequences beyond simple cell failure.

    If you understand the parameters involved in Li-Ion technology, and are diligent in monitoring, you can use bare cells and will not have any issues. However, if you have a lapse in diligence, you will have to pay the consequences.

    On the other hand, if you use protected cells, a lapse in diligence simply results in the protection circuit kicking in.

    When starting off with Li-Ion cells, I always recommend doing a run time test. Once you have an idea of how long the light will run on a fresh charge, you can simply keep track of how much you use the light and charge it before it becomes completely discharged. If you loose track of how much you have used the light, pull the battery and charge it up and start over again. Or, simply measure the open circuit voltage to get an idea if it needs to be charged.

    Tom
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    Most batteries don't die - they are tortured to near death, then murdered...

  5. #5
    Flashaholic* old4570's Avatar
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Some common sense will go far ...

    For single cell use , there not that bad , 2x , thats different .

  6. #6

    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    March Brown, I don't know where you're posting from, but there are a heck of a lot of products that are not marketed to consumers anywhere in the USA (at least through large retailers), because of liability issues etc. You can buy unprotected li ion cells from industrial distributors, but that's different, the idea of those places is that you're designing them into OEM products and you know what you're doing, it's not really a consumer market. You can also buy them from consumer-oriented web sites overseas, from vendors that are basically immune to any consequences of the cells exploding and causing you damage or injury, so they have no disincentive to taking your money. You can also buy just about any type of counterfeit product from those places, as well as stuff like pet food or baby formula containing melamine or children's toys made out of poisonous cadmium, to name just a few examples that have made news in recent times. Think of it as the genius of the free enterprise system when all accountability is removed. If you can buy something internationally that you can't buy domestically, there might very well be a good reason for that.

    Does that answer your question?

  7. #7

    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Can you buy unprotected LiIon batteries in the UK? Not on the high street I bet. From what I have learnt here, they are potentially very dangerous, and need to be looked after. One part of that is using a charger with protection.

    It looks as if they originally formed part of battery packs in laptops and other devices, and the packs included protection circuits. Then someone started selling them loose, without the protection. I don't see any big names such as Panasonic selling unprotected cells which should tell you something i.e. they don't want the possible bad publicity. So you buy them from China and other places and the brands are unknown. It looks to me as if they are used by hobbyists rather than mainstream consumers. Personally I would not use them, but that is because I am easily distracted, and could leave some charging while unwatched which is a big no no. From what I have been told here, they are quite safe if treated with respect i.e. watch them while charging. I'm not sure if there is any danger in actual use.
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    Flashaholic* 45/70's Avatar
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by LeifUK View Post
    ......From what I have been told here, they are quite safe if treated with respect i.e. watch them while charging. I'm not sure if there is any danger in actual use.
    This is pretty much the bottom line. Li-Ion cells are safe, when maintained properly. In my opinion, they are far safer than the CR123A lithium primary chemistry (a lithium chemistry that differs from the AA, AAA versions). In fact, there are far more incidents from the misuse of CR123A primary cells on these Forums, than incidents involving Li-Ion cells.

    As far as Li-Ions being dangerous while installed in your flashlight/torch, it's the CR123A primaries that have a high rate, not Li-Ion's. It's extremely rare for Li-Ion cell's to cause any problem, when in use. As you pointed out, the potential danger using Li-Ion cells, is when charging. And, as you also pointed out, following proper charging procedures eliminates this problem. It's this last part that many newcomers to Li-Ion cell use, just don't seem to understand. It's no wonder, the way web dealers promote them like candy, without any hint as to how they should be used and maintained. Therein, lies the problem, and where we, the members of CPF, have a calling.

    Dave

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    Flashaholic Magic Matt's Avatar
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Well I don't know about elsewhere in the world, but in the UK it's very hard to get unprotected Li-Ion cells (unless you go to a specialist). Protected Li-Ion cells can be bought from high street stores with a charger, but I've only seen them seperately once.

    Dave: "In fact, there are far more incidents from the misuse of CR123A primary cells on these Forums, than incidents involving Li-Ion cells."
    My opinion is that this is probably because having read the forums, people are much more careful with their Li-Ion cells. Outside of these forums, I suspect there are quite a few Li-Ion stories, because people don't understand the risks.

    I include myself in that group - there's no way I'd use Li-Ion cells in my own projects until it had been thoroughly tested on the bench with a suitable power supply to check it cuts out at the right voltage and doesn't draw too much current. Before I started reading the info on these forums, I would have probably chanced it and had a story of my own.

    I think CR123 primaries should be protected cells too.
    L Learner flashaholic. Please never be afraid to correct me!

  10. #10

    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    CR123a are widely used in consumer products, far more so than specialist LiIon cells such as the 18650. So you can't compare directly the number of problem reports unless you know the total number of cells in use. My macro flash system uses two, one per flash unit. I also have other non torch (flashlight) products that are powered from CR123a units.

    Quote Originally Posted by Magic Matt View Post
    I think CR123 primaries should be protected cells too.
    Isn't the protection to prevent overcharging? In which case it is not needed, unless I am mistaken.
    Last edited by LeifUK; 01-25-2010 at 12:50 PM.
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    Flashaholic* 45/70's Avatar
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    I'm with you Matt, and agree that the knowledge obtainable here is hopefully why incidents are less common with Li-Ion cells.

    I would like to point out that the protection circuitry that is added to "bare" Li-Ion cells, is there to prevent potential problems when the cell is recharged, not to prevent anything from happening when the cell is over discharged. You can run a Li-Ion cell totally flat, and nothing will happen. It's when you go to charge a cell that has been discharged to an unsafe level, that the fireworks will occur.

    It is my understanding that even in series applications, where reverse charging occurs when the "pack" is run to a low level of charge, where one cell becomes depleted before others in the "pack", and is exposed to current running the opposite direction through the cell, that Li-Ions are more tolerant than lithium primaries in this regard. With primary cells, you're pretty much guaranteed fireworks, whereas with Li-Ion cells, as I understand it, it is unlikely to be eventful.

    Now, if you go to charge a Li-Ion cell that has been reverse charged (or discharged to too low a level), then you have a problem. Once again, most dangerous situations involving Li-Ion cells, are when charging them, not using them.

    Dave
    Last edited by 45/70; 01-25-2010 at 12:59 PM. Reason: added italics

  12. #12
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    .
    Five of my torches use 18650 batteries ... Three of these will also use three AAAs in a cassette arrangement ... I now have a Digital Multimeter which I use for voltage measurements plus my old analogue Avo 8 which is used for current measurements ... I feel better equipped to monitor the state of charge on the 18650s as the percentage capacity is directly related to the open circuit cell voltage.

    I have two Ultrafire Unprotected and at the moment two Ultrafire Protected cells ... I have four more Protected ones coming in the post ... All these torches only use one 18650 each ... I understand that possible danger could arise if the torches used multiple cells where one cell was undercharged when used with fully chaged cell(s) ...I am now therefore perfectly happy when using 18650s in a single cell torch ... If I exercise a modicum of care, I can see no problem with using unprotected 18650s in a single cell torch.

    You can halt the charge whenever you want and after a few minutes resting, measure the cells open circuit voltage ... This will give an indication of the percetage capacity that has been reached ... If the voltage is below the 4.2 Volt threshold you can simply put the cell back on charge and check again later ... This is no problem as the cells do not have a memory ... When the cell has measured 4.2 Volts after resting, you can assume that it is fairly near to the 100% capacity ... If I feel the urge to monitor further, I can use the Avo 8 in series with the cell to watch the charge current reduce to just a few milliamps.

    So, I am much happier now than when I first read about this type of cell chemistry.

    I will be sticking with 18650s for the (slightly) bigger carry torches and AA and AAA for the others ... I can see no benefit in using the 123 series of cells ... A single slim and shortish single AA torch is in my eyes much nicer than a short fat dumpy 123 torch ... Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
    .

  13. #13
    Flashaholic* 45/70's Avatar
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by march.brown View Post
    .
    So, I am much happier now than when I first read about this type of cell chemistry.
    That's good to hear, march.

    Knowledge is wisdom, wisdom is ....... eh, I forget, but anyway.

    Dave

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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by amigafan2003 View Post
    People need to take some personal responsibilty over the products they are using. You can't legislate for stupidity
    Ahh! I wanted to be the first one to answer something like this! Well said. If we took away everything that anybody found "dangerous" I'd rather just crawl into a dark cave and die. In all honest, it amazes me that we can legally pump gasoline into our vehicles, drive around thousands of other vehicles with tanks of the stuff (at high-speed, no less!) and then park tanks of this stuff in our attached garages. And we don't even give it a second thought. But boy... if a battery catches on fire, watch out!
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Magic Matt View Post
    Well I don't know about elsewhere in the world, but in the UK it's very hard to get unprotected Li-Ion cells
    Actually, unprotected cells are readily available in the UK (and elsewhere) - in the form of lithium ion polymer batteries which are used for RC models. Multi-cell configurations have balance leads, but not all chargers (such as the Swallow) have in-built balance capability.

    LiPos are probably one of the more unstable forms of Li-Ion cells, and also they are easily physically damaged which can start a fire - I've seen some interesting pics of burnt out planes!

    Cheers
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    Thread Killer Illum's Avatar
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    unprotected lithium batteries are not dangerous if used properly, it was not until recently that the industry standard of "safe" regards using them in flashlights

  17. #17

    Talking Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    anyway, dun forget that some people will buy the unprotected cells to build their own lion battery pack ( like me ).

    further adding a protecting circuit to the pack upon completion.

    thus, with the initial circuit on the cell, means lesser work.

  18. #18

    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Darell View Post
    Ahh! I wanted to be the first one to answer something like this! Well said. If we took away everything that anybody found "dangerous" I'd rather just crawl into a dark cave and die. In all honest, it amazes me that we can legally pump gasoline into our vehicles, drive around thousands of other vehicles with tanks of the stuff (at high-speed, no less!) and then park tanks of this stuff in our attached garages. And we don't even give it a second thought. But boy... if a battery catches on fire, watch out!
    Wow! I have not seen you on CPF for years!!

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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by amigafan2003 View Post
    Car are dangerous.

    Mountain bikes are dangerous.

    Matches are dangerous.

    Fireworks are dangerous.

    Angle grinders are dangerous.

    But yet they are all still on sale.

    BUT they are all only dangerous if they are improperly used - the same applies to 18650's - if they are used properly they are almost perfectly safe - if misused then they are going to bite you in the ass.

    People need to take some personal responsibilty over the products they are using. You can't legislate for stupidity - think of it as natural selection.
    Amen brother. Well said.

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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vesper View Post
    Amen brother. Well said.
    +1



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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?


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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by LeifUK View Post
    Isn't the protection to prevent overcharging? In which case it is not needed, unless I am mistaken.
    You're telling me some people wont try and put primary CR123 cells into a charger? Ohhh, I think they will....

    Remember, some people try and recharge alkalines in their NiMH chargers. The world is full of idiots who will try to sue you for their own stupidity. Whilst I agree that people that do stupid things should take responsibility for the consequences, the fact is the world doesn't work that way, and I don't want to see Lithium cells etc. being banned because of knee-jerk reactions to idiots who sue shoe manufacturers if the laces snap and ththeir trainers fall off.

    It's not about protecting the idiots so much as it is about protecting the manufacturers from the legal action taken by the idiots afterwards.


    Quote Originally Posted by digitor View Post
    ...lithium ion polymer batteries...
    ...probably one of the more unstable forms of Li-Ion cells
    I didn't realise they were totally unprotected. That's nasty.
    Last edited by Magic Matt; 01-25-2010 at 03:48 PM.
    L Learner flashaholic. Please never be afraid to correct me!

  23. #23
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Magic Matt View Post
    You're telling me some people wont try and put primary CR123 cells into a charger? Ohhh, I think they will....

    Remember, some people try and recharge alkalines in their NiMH chargers. The world is full of idiots who will try to sue you for their own stupidity. Whilst I agree that people that do stupid things should take responsibility for the consequences, the fact is the world doesn't work that way, and I don't want to see Lithium cells etc. being banned because of knee-jerk reactions to idiots who sue shoe manufacturers if the laces snap and ththeir trainers fall off.

    It's not about protecting the idiots so much as it is about protecting the manufacturers from the legal action taken by the idiots afterwards.

    I didn't realise they were totally unprotected. That's nasty.
    .
    I just hope the UK Government don't find out about dangerous flashlight batteries because they would be banned.

    I used to do a lot of competitive full-bore and small-bore pistol shooting and after the Dunblane tragedy, because of one lunatic man, everyone in the UK had to hand in their handguns to be destroyed ... I only lost a few thousand pounds, because of that lunatic with a Firearms Certificate, but many people in Dunblane lost their children ... Batteries, like firearms, are not dangerous if they are treated with respect.

    If anyone dies due to batteries exploding, there is no telling what the UK Government would do ... Let's keep all torch users informed about these cells and perhaps we can put off the evil day when the UK Government clamps down on imports.

    In the case of a catastrophic failure and the resulting house fire, how do we explain to our Insurers that it was due to a battery that we knew was a possible danger ?
    .
    Last edited by march.brown; 01-25-2010 at 04:57 PM. Reason: Addition.

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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Darell View Post
    it amazes me that we can legally pump gasoline into our vehicles
    Not in Oregon we can't - that's against the law. It's the job of our Professional Service Station Attendants...
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    I think the more important question is why would anyone buy them?? This doesnt look to me like something to scrimp on.

  26. #26
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    I would buy them if I had a device that had protection built into it. Why burn money on protection when you already have it?

  27. #27
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by spencer View Post
    I would buy them if I had a device that had protection built into it. Why burn money on protection when you already have it?
    .
    It seems that charging is the source of possible dangers on these cells ... More so than using them in a single cell torch.

    I suppose that even if the charger had all the necessary protection circuits incorporated, there is always the possibility that they could someday fail ... This could be age related or just component failure ... It would be then that the cells protection would/could save the day.

    Of course if you didn't realise that the chargers circuits had failed and then the batteries protection failed .... Then what.

    I know that you can't hope to solve problems by putting protection circuits into everything, so it is up to us to monitor the voltages and if necessary the charging current ... These are self-imposed safety precautions to ensure that we stay within the operating parameters of these cells.

    I have two unprotected 18650 cells which I use (with a bit of common sense) and this does not worry me at all now ... I would not consider using them in multi-cell 18650 torches though ... Since I will only be using them in a single cell torch, there are no worries.
    .

  28. #28
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    As I'm building RC models too, i'm quite used to handle unprotected cells and packs.
    Fro sure there is a lot of "promotion" about how dangerous those unprotected cells are. But as a think, when reading such stories, most of those people didn't knew what they were handling.

    It's more like a car: you hve to know the basics - and most important: you have to learn how to handle!
    So properly treated LiIon or LiPoly cells are not really dangerous if treated right. I don't know one colleague which LiPo battery exploded. Even after heavy crashes of some planes, there was no explosion. But knowing about the LiIon batteries, a visually damaged battery is either properly disposed or (depending on the damage) carefully recharged.

    For my flashlights I mostly use unprotected cells from old laptop batteries. So during the first one or two charges, I watch the temperature and if suspect, meassure the voltage. So I do also with new cells or if I buy a new charger during the first run. Later you have to decide if you trust all the stuff or don't trust the 5$ charger

    BTW: A protection circuit normally protects against overcharging, over discharging and short circuit.
    The reason I prefere unprotected cells in a flashlight is that it gets dimmer when the battery drops to some level of discharge (but still not discharged too low to recharge ). but a protected cell makes you standing in the dark within a second...

    So just don't read and believe every story about an exploded LiIon but rather read some articles about the correct handlig. Then you'll be happy, your battery will be happy and your flashlight wil be bright

  29. #29
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    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Magic Matt View Post
    You're telling me some people wont try and put primary CR123 cells into a charger? Ohhh, I think they will....
    What, like this ?
    http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/...d.php?t=250219

  30. #30

    Default Re: If unprotected 18650 batteries are dangerous, why are they on sale ?

    Quote Originally Posted by amigafan2003 View Post
    Car are dangerous.

    Mountain bikes are dangerous.

    Matches are dangerous.

    Fireworks are dangerous.

    Angle grinders are dangerous.

    But yet they are all still on sale.

    BUT they are all only dangerous if they are improperly used - the same applies to 18650's - if they are used properly they are almost perfectly safe - if misused then they are going to bite you in the ass.

    People need to take some personal responsibilty over the products they are using. You can't legislate for stupidity - think of it as natural selection.
    These are not valid analogies. Anyone knows that pressing an angle grinder against someones face is going to result in some serious damage. Fireworks are on sale, but in the UK their sale is restricted, and there are laws relating to their use. And of course cars and bikes can be dangerous. That is why there is a driving licence, and strict laws on vehicles and their drivers. Few people know the dangers of unprotected cells, and that even charging them may be risky.

    "the same applies to 18650's - if they are used properly they are almost perfectly safe"

    That is the key point in a nutshell. And the key question is how are you going to ensure that people use them properly?

    Anyone can purchase unregulated cells from overseas sites (for which read China) and as far as I know there is no legal regulation, and no attempt at educating users. I have no idea on the situation in the UK/Europe and North America. Most people on seeing rechargeable LiIon batteries/cells would probably assume that are the same as normal batteries, and just set them to charge overnight. Hey, they're rechargeables right? I know I would have done had I not come across this forum. So in my opinion it should be legal to sell these things, but there must be reasonable measures to ensure that users are aware of the correct use, and the dangers of incorrect use. (A large warning on the packet and a brief user guide for example.)
    ________________
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    http://www.leifgoodwin.co.uk/Fungi/Fungi.html

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