His 2015 Apple MacBook Pro exploded

An antidote for Samsung schadenfreude.

From a first-hand account posted Monday by Daniel Dourvaris and widely reposted this week:

One afternoon as I was lying on my bed browsing the internet, my MacBook Pro suddenly turned off. I turned it back on and within a few seconds there was weird hissing sound, followed by white smoke and thin flames coming out of from the back…

Fair is fair, I suppose. Can’t cover Samsung’s meltdowns and ignore Apple’s—even if we’re more likely to get stuck by lightening than scorched by a venting MacBook.

But the incident made me realize that I didn’t really understand how lithium ion batteries work or why they fail so explosively.

Which eventually led me to David Pogue’s Search of the Superbattery, a deep, breezy dive into battery technology that aired Feb. 1 on PBS’s NOVA. At one point (around the 12:00 minute mark) Pogue visits a Li-ion factory, where we learn that all that separates us from thermal runaway is a thin layer of plastic.

The real fireworks start at 22:18, where Pogue visits Sandia Laboratories’ battery abuse testing lab, where Li-ion cells are crushed, overcharged and pierced with a nail. Don’t, whatever you do, try this at home.

7 Comments

  1. Fred Stein said:

    Perspective:
    Cars kill, not burn fingers, 38,000 people annually. 4.4M required medical attention.**
    The IB of Macs is about 100M. Are Macs more or less safe w.r.t. LiON batteries than other laptops? Same question for iPhones vs other SmartPhones.
    And we hear about train wrecks that could be prevented with technology to automatically apply brakes. But the implementation is caught-up in budget and bureaucracy..
    Just my guess, Apple’s LiON failure rates are well below average.
    **Traffic fatalities have increased in recent years. Maybe texting while driving is WAY more dangerous than the battery.

    2
    March 4, 2017
  2. William Kortum said:

    Some months back, when Samsung was having problems with their lithium-ion batteries catching fire, you printed a quote from a government official, who seemed to be saying the problem was with lithium-ion technology itself. Apple and others may have handled those problems better than Samsung & the manufacturers of some personal transportation devices. It sounds like the technology itself is risky. Some handle it better than others. But I don’t leave my devices on charge if I go out for dinner.

    0
    March 4, 2017
    • David Emery said:

      Don’t forget the problems Boeing 787 had with their batteries.

      0
      March 5, 2017

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