By developing a set of habits that keeps lithium batteries healthy, you can stretch your dollars and save the Earth too!
After owning and discarding numerous mobile phones, laptops and other gadgets running on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, we should all know by now that they do not last long.
Just when the one-year warranty expires, the battery life gets shorter; charging takes longer, or the whole unit heats up faster. Some devices even never get charged to 100% once the battery inside gets old. In the worst case, a bulge forms in the battery, causing a bump in the casing.
Lithium-type rechargeable batteries are flammable and are not meant to be just dumped down a rubbish chute. The infamous Samsung Note 7 debacle brings to mind numerous funny memes and video skits on the topic. Awareness is growing worldwide that such batteries should be responsibly sent for recycling because they are contributing to massive electronic waste.
Doing our part to help
Battery technology is constantly improving, and someday soon, we will have much longer-lasting, durable and recyclable compact lithium batteries. However, for now, what if I told you that even the current types of modern rechargeable batteries can actually last twice as long and be much more durable if we just followed these simple, albeit not-so-convenient usage habits?
- Overnight charging precautions: Leaving the device charging to 100% and remaining at that level for hours overnight is a sure way to shorten the usable life of the battery. Many newer devices can be set to limit the charge level to 70% or 80% to keep the battery healthy. If no such function exists, make it a habit to charge the device throughout the day so that when you retire for the night, the device’s battery level is already at a usable 70 to 80% for use the next day.
- Running on low: Try not to run the device down to below 20% before you start charging the battery. Keep a power bank on hand to get the battery charged up once it starts reaching 30%. The power bank need not be huge and bulky—if portability is important, just get a powerful compact unit that can add 30% to the battery level.
- Keeping the battery unstressed: Most lithium-type batteries run cool and comfy at levels between 35% and 75%. Once they are running low (below 35%) or have too much charge (>80%) they run hot and get stressed. This electrical stress is what shortens the usable life of Lithium-type batteries. Worse, if the stress is allowed to remain—such as when you leave the device charged at 89% and left unpowered—the insidious damage to the chemicals in the battery will build up over time. Recommendation: If you have to leave a device powered off and unused for even a few days, make sure the battery is at 45 to 55%. This charge level is not stressful, and the battery can be left in this state safely for a long period of time.
- Plugging in to AC: The temptation of many users of devices that have huge rechargeable batteries (such as laptops) is to leave them plugged in permanently. This is harmful to the battery as it will be stressed up by being kept at 100% for long periods of time. Recommendation: Use any battery-life conservation feature in the software that can terminate charging at a safe level (e.g., 60%) when the unit is tethered to the AC outlet. If no such function exists, try to unplug the device from the AC outlet and let the battery discharge some electrons for an hour or so before plugging it back to the AC. Preferably, do the unplugging when the battery recharges back to 80% or less.
- Heat is another enemy: Another cause of electrical distress to the battery is heat. Heat from long periods of charging. Heat from the device’s internal circuitry and ventilation system, especially when running applications that demand high CPU power. Heat from the environment; and heat from using the wrong types of charging cable and chargers. Recommendation: Use only high-quality charging cables certified for the charging rate specified for the device. Use high-quality certified chargers and power banks that can adjust to the device’s continuously varying charging rates controlled by the battery’s onboard logic. For laptops, use a good cooler stand, and for other devices, find ways to reduce heat buildup around the device: relocate them to areas with strong ventilation or put a small fan around the current location. Most importantly, try to build up a habit of not charging the battery only when it is running low: charge for short periods of time when using the device continuously for hours. Each charge can be as short as 20 minutes before you unplug the cable. Short multiple charging sessions keep the battery less heated up, resulting in a longer usage and reliability profile.
- Software can help: Increasingly, smart devices now feature firmware that can help you manage the battery levels when charging or straining the battery. Whenever you purchase a new device, make it a point to learn about any functions that can help prolong battery life and reduce unnecessary battery use by apps lurking in the background unnecessarily.
- When all else fails: If you observe just one or two of the above tips, you will likely to keeping the device’s battery healthier for at least 20% more than if you charged the battery haphazardly and according to whim or incorrect habits. If you follow ALL of the above tips, you may be surprised to find that your devices now last longer than previous generations—well beyond warranty expiration. Regardless, when the battery becomes flaky, the important thing is NOT TO DISCARD THE DEVICE so readily! There is a thriving industry of after-market battery-replacement services now. Just spend a fraction of the cost of getting a new device to get your current device’s battery replaced! Even if you still intend to purchase a new device for the sake of the latest features, you will have salvaged a perfectly usable product after getting its battery replaced. Give it to a friend or sell it cheap to benefit others!
Too many electronic gadgets have been dumped into the landfills when they could have been salvaged, refurbished, or recycled.
By following the tips supplied here, you may develop a useful habit that will prolong the usable life of not just one smartphone or laptop, but a plethora of battery-based gadgets in use at the office, home, car or event. Please spread the word and help everyone get more mileage out of their investments in portable electronic equipment while contributing to the sustainability movement—one lithium battery at a time! Thank you!