Dramatic video of a notebook PC exploding in flames has shocked consumers and battered its manufacturer's share price. The explosion of the LG notebook's battery earlier this week was caught in video footage (seen here), which has now been broadcast on Korean television.
“People do need to be aware that there's a risk of very serious injury. If there's any sign that a laptop battery is overheating badly, stay well away from it”, said one doctor interviewed on Korean TV.
“The notebook computer is a tool we use every day... anyone could become a victim,” warned a writer for the Digital Times, in a call for safer notebook batteries.
Owners of notebooks made by LG and other manufacturers expressed alarm at the incident on Korean online forums. “How could I dare put that bomb on my lap again,” asked one man. "My notebook always seems to be too hot anyway, how can I possibly tell when it's getting dangerous?", questioned another.
Smoke poured from laptop
The incident was caught on video and received considerable media attention because the notebook belonged to a reporter from the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's largest newspaper, who was visiting a hospital with a group of other journalists who also witnessed the incident.
The reporter first noticed smoke wafting from his laptop bag. When he pulled the PC out, it was too hot to hold comfortably and smoke began to gush from the vents.
The journalist put the PC down on the floor and warned people to stay away. As the smoke intensified, he began to spray it with a dry fire extinguisher. Suddenly, jets of flame appeared and the battery compartment exploded with a loud crack, lifting the notebook off the floor and ejecting gouts of molten material across the room. A second, even larger, explosion which followed was caught on video. Hot fragments and burning plastic left scorch marks on the walls and floor.
The journalists controlled the resulting fire with extinguishers. Nobody was injured in the incident.
Afterwards, debris was found scattered up to ten meters away. The battery's outer casing appeared to have disintegrated, and some of its individual internal battery cells were visible near the computer – all appeared charred and distorted.
"LG Electronics is collaborating with LG Chem, the battery maker, to investigate and determine the cause of the problem, as under normal usage conditions, this type of problem should not occur," an LG spokeswoman said. The damaged notebook was handed to LG's investigators, local press reports said.
The company did not identify the type of notebook that exploded, but it appeared to be an LG Xnote Z1, a 12.1-inch screen notebook with a 1.83 Ghz Core 2 Duo CPU and ATI X1350 graphics. The notebook has been on sale for less than a year. Like all modern notebooks, the Z1 uses a compact lithium ion battery.
Shares in LG Electronics and LG Chem both fell by approximately five percent as news of the event spread. LG has spent heavily to promote the Xnote brand, which it uses for a broad range of notebook and tablet PCs.
As the power density of batteries increases, fears have grown of the risk of fires and explosions caused by rare, but catastrophic, internal short circuits that convert a significant part of a battery's electrical energy to heat in a short time. In the US, the Federal Aviation Adminstration (FAA), the body which regulates air travel safety, recently introduced restrictions on the number and size of lithium ion batteries that can be taken aboard flights as checked baggage.
Sony paid almost half a billion dollars to recall and replace notebook batteries after one was photographed exploding in 2006.
Update: Questions raised about LG Chem's battery testing procedure. Please see the updated version of this story.