All of the smartphones bursting into flames these days has got us thinking a lot about batteries here at the New Atlas offices. Specifically, we were wondering if the need to periodically discharge cell phone batteries to keep them conditioned is really necessary.
So, as part of our regular One Big Question series, we put that very query to Daniel Abraham, a lithium-ion battery specialist at the Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago, Illinois. Here’s what he had to say on the subject:
Present-day cell phones (and laptops) contain lithium-ion batteries, which do not need to be discharged periodically to keep them “conditioned.”
The “discharge periodically” recommendation is a holdover from older kinds of batteries, such as nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal hydride rechargeable batteries. These batteries are believed to display a “memory effect” that causes them to hold less charge if they’re not discharged periodically. That’s not the case for lithium-ion batteries.
To understand this better it helps to know how rechargeable lithium-ion batteries work.
A rechargeable battery cell contains four basic components: a positive cathode, a negative anode, an electrolyte that allows lithium ions to flow between them, and a separator that physically separates the electrodes to prevent short circuits.