Apple MacBook battery: Exploded

Apple MacBook battery: Exploded

Summary: Like a significant number of Apple MacBook owners, I didn't expect my battery to burst. I discovered that Apple considers this hazardous occurrence "expected behavior."

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TOPICS: Hardware, Apple
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(Image: Violet Blue/ZDNet)

Apple is approaching its tenth year of exploding laptop batteries and might be fine with telling customers that its batteries bursting apart is "expected behavior." But believe me, it's far from expected, routine or safe when it actually happens.

I noticed my MacBook Pro wasn't sitting right on its shelf. I took a closer look, and saw that the battery had exploded, ruptured out of the laptop's casing, and had ripped apart at the seams.

It was hot to the touch.

Looking at the hundreds of current posts from unhappy customers with exploded batteries, in-laptop battery explosion seems to be a common problem.

"Apple Support calls this a feature," wrote one person. "Because it prevented the battery from exploding and burning the house down while we were completely unaware Apple batteries did that when NOT IN USE."

My MacBook was in daily use — and still is, but now it runs without its battery.

My 2008 MacBook Pro (15-inch) went from being a work laptop to my TV laptop in 2011, when I put it to work running all Internet operations related to my flatscreen TV.

It is on most days, and I put it to sleep or shut it off when I sleep or leave my flat. It sits under the TV, and I control it with screen sharing.

Apple's official position: exploding batteries are "expected behavior"

Apple says the $129 battery is actually expected to fail — and we are supposed to buy new ones every year.

In 2010, Australian software engineer Chris Mountford made the same discovery on the same MacBook Pro model and year. When he found that his battery had, like mine, blown up in the laptop, he took it to Apple and was rudely awakened to hear that this, according to Apple, is "expected behavior."

Apple Battery Exploded

Apple's apathy toward the problem seems to be sadly universal; in 2011 another exploding battery victim went through a bit of run-around before being told that batteries blowing up in MacBooks is "normal." 

He wrote to Consumerist:

Apple's "official position" is that their batteries WILL expand and destroy your computer.

Especially after they outlive their (and I quote) "optimistic, one year lifespan."

Apple's party line is that an exploding battery in their non-exploding consumer devices is normal, and that's what people around the world are being told.

Apple has moved toward phasing out removable batteries, and it's a good thing that this one is, indeed, removable — my MacBook is still in operation at this very moment, running Netflix on my TV.

Otherwise, I'd be out a laptop. 

The MacBook is currently running connected to the charger while its caustic, hazardous battery is on a metal chair in the backyard.

Flammable, corrosive — and explosive

Apple's swelling batteries are toxic to humans, and the vented gas is flammable and corrosive.

Lithium Polymer batteries are not as bad as most batteries in terms of toxicity, but when handling a burst battery, never touch your mouth, nose and eyes; wash your hands thoroughly, and stay in a ventilated area.

Medical conditions caused by exposure to Lithium Polymer Chemicals include burns to skin, eyes, and mucous membranes.

Battery supplier Max Amps warns on its Lithium Polymer Battery Care page: "If the electrolyte in the cells should get on your skin, thoroughly wash with soap and water. If in the eyes, rinse thoroughly with cool water."

"Immediately seek medical attention for this, or for burns," it adds.

There may have been no combustive explosion when my MacBook's battery blew its casing open. But that's only because it didn't catch fire. This function of materials, while appreciated, is not exactly soothing.

The MacBook Pro battery is Lithium Polymer, the same overall technology as Lithium-ion batteries.

It requires a Li-Po specific charger to avoid fire and explosion, and overcharging or short-circuiting one will indeed cause a fire.

Its cells are designed to balloon out on reaching a dangerous state, forcing the case to crack open, in order to prevent the cell from losing its seal and catching fire.

They can reach this state from either a fault in the manufacturing, "bad" storage of the battery (too much or not enough charging), or age.

Proper disposal of Lithium Polymer batteries is important to avoid disasters.

Apple Battery Exploded
My exploded MacBook battery still holds a charge.

The battery must be fully discharged (mine, unfortunately as you can see above, is not).

Taking it to a place with a battery recycling program is recommended; if you visit an Apple store, Apple will recycle it for you.

Li-Po batteries are commonly used in the radio-controlled car and aircraft worlds. Users charge and store their batteries in fireproof bags, and stories can easily be found on RC forums about fiery battery explosions — some while in normal operation.

Lithium Polymer battery materials safety sheets state that Li-Po fires should be extinguished with foam or dry powder; water can be used, but when water is used it can create explosive hydrogen gas.

RC Club of Houston tells readers that after discharging a Li-Po battery — or if the cells are damaged — you should:

Submerse the battery into bucket or tub of salt water. This container should have a lid, but it should not need to be air-tight.

Prepare a plastic container (do not use metal) of cold water. And mix in 1/2 cup of salt per gallon of water. Drop the battery into the salt water.

Allow the battery to remain in the tub of salt water for at least 24 hours if already discharged to 1.0v per cell or 2 weeks if still charged.

Remove the Li-Po battery from the salt water, wrap it in newspaper or paper towels and place it in the normal trash. [Now] they are landfill safe.

I didn't know the risks my MacBook Pro battery carried, or that I should expect it to fail — and fail often.

It's really disappointing to discover such a significant hardware and customer satisfaction issue — Apple's problematic and dysfunctional batteries — in so many forums and in blog posts while researching what happened in my living room.

It is not an uncommon, or unconventional problem.

But in learning of Apple's unwillingness to openly address something so talked about, so repetitive — and its complete willingness to add it to their profit model — is at once luridly absurd, and profoundly disturbing.

Topics: Hardware, Apple

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147 comments
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  • MBP 17 with NON removable battery

    Is this the same battery? Do I have to worry about my MBP exploding?
    n0mad3
    • Quickly...

      Submerse your MBP into bucket or tub of salt water. This container should have a lid, but it should not need to be air-tight.
      Sean Foley
      • Funny, but, to be fair, Apple is the same as Dell, HP and others in terms

        ... of batteries.

        There is no better alternative in terms of treatment of blown up battery cases.
        DDERSSS
        • But

          they don't say that this is normal behaviour after, optimistically, 1 year.

          Acer obviously didn't get the memo, my 2003 Acer laptop battery is still working fine.
          wright_is
          • I've definitely seen an old ppc macbook in the last year

            It's battery wasn't expanded... Apparently apple hadn't got the memo in 2004 either..

            Laughable rational - even to acer it is expected behavior - it's the batteries - lithium ion batteries that are over charge create a chemical reaction inside that causes the expansion. Technology is used to prevent this, but over time, across millions of units it will happen... Everyone using them in their devices knows this.

            It is expected behavior for apple samsung sony acer... Whoever. It is not intended it will just happen.

            People forget macs are just pc's rebranded - paying the extra for the logo on your lid doesn't buy your way round physics.
            MarknWill
          • Oh additionally

            Not blown up, burst, exploded, gone nuclear or even armageddon...

            They just expanded. If the soft cell battery inside had leaked in anyway you'd know about it - they are lithium based. Expect fizzing, toxic gas, burns to skin and materials if any of these actually leaked - the y are designed not to; thats the safety element everyone forgets; unless you pierce it, it's designed not to burst.

            They have just expanded. Where damage is done by the expansion it is normal for the manufacturer to repair the damage for free but to charge for the battery (they are always treated differently in warranties as they are consumable)
            MarknWill
          • It is still a malfunction. That it malfunctioned in a safe way...

            Is good but if devices are regularly malfunctioning the problem need to be fixed. It might be the charger not the battery.
            DevGuy_z
          • Don't know about your Acer

            My HPs batteries routinely last a bit more than a year. Highest class laptops...

            However, I have an PowerBook 5300c (circa 1995) that has still fully functional battery. So, YMMV.
            danbi
          • Lithium: They make planes out of this stuff

            Lithium is volutile.

            Lithium batteries are powder kegs waiting to go off.

            Now they are putting huge lithium batteries aboard aircraft, to power the aircraft's electronics. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is full of lithium. Do a news search for that airliner, and see how many times the battery has caught fire.

            Lithium is not that great. Lithium batteries degrade over time, even if not used. They degrade more if they are charged above 80%, or if the charge drops below 40%.

            If the manufacturers used Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries instead of Lithium, then we'd have longer lasting appliances, and less volatile ones.
            Vbitrate
          • do some more research

            Wrong
            tsgermani
          • LiOn > NiMH by a landslide

            You must be off your rocker to think otherwise. I have a LiOn cordless drill and I've only charged the thing 5 times in the 5 years that I've owned it with the last recharge being nearly 2 years ago. You can't do that with NiMH. Those things do not last that long.
            T1Oracle
          • You have bad information.

            Lithium is widely used because of its energy density. Almost all pacemakers and implantable medical devices use Lithium in their chemistry. Lithium Ion, Lithium-Manganese and other formulations.

            Lithium has a huge advantage over NiMH. It has a MUCH longer shelf-life. MUCH higher energy density -especially important for pacemakers requiring 10 years of life. And for computers it results in a much lighter device. If they used NiMH your laptops would be larger and heavier to support the battery.
            DevGuy_z
          • But you have a Acer

            Obviously the Apple fans will never understand this. How could they pay so much for so little? I don't know?
            JohnnyES-25227553276394558534412264934521
          • Does not computer

            Fanboys call me an Apple fan here, yet I have had a number of Acer computers and do find them good. So what is your point?

            Yes, it is apparent that you do not know.
            danbi
          • And my dell...

            ...has a user replaceable battery.
            cornpie
        • Bull

          You make up a lot of crap man...

          Apple made their laptops so they cannot be easily replaced by the average user and HP or Dell typically do not do this outside of Ultrabooks.
          slickjim
          • Cool down fanboy

            The MacBook in question has an *replaceable* battery, just like those whom you worship.

            Next time, try reading the article first.
            danbi
          • replacable or not

            Doesn't really matter if the laptop 'in question' has a replaceable battery : Apple has plenty of laptops that don't have a replaceable battery and for a company that believes batteries should be replaced once a year that is a very bizar design choice.
            kleykenb
        • They should not blow up in the first place

          If this is occurring this should result in a recall. This not OK behavior. What would the airlines think? Fire on an airline?
          DevGuy_z
    • Not quite accurate

      the battery IS removable at this point....
      William.Farrel