Recall of power banks raises concerns

Recall of power banks raises concerns
Valore vPower 5200 mAh Power Bank (VL-PB150). Computer retailer Challenger is recalling 12,000 units of portable power banks due to overheating problems that could lead to a fire or explosion, sparking a call for such products to be regulated here.

SINGAPORE - Electronics retailer Challenger is recalling 12,000 units of portable power banks due to a problem of overheating that could lead to a fire or explosion - sparking a call for such products to be regulated here.

In a quarter-page colour advertisement in The Straits Times yesterday, Challenger alerted customers to "overheating" problems for its two in-house models - Valore vPower 7800 mAh and 5200 mAh, sold for $79.90 and $59.90 respectively.

It is offering customers a one-for-one exchange until May 31, or a refund for those that are still covered under the product's warranty.

The retailer, one of the largest for computer products here, told The Straits Times it has received four complaints to date.

Portable power banks are essentially lithium-ion batteries that supply power to personal electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets.

They are increasingly popular for juicing up mobile devices whose big, bright screens and advanced computing capabilities drain the internal batteries very quickly.

Challenger started selling products under the Valore brand name in July 2012.

They include, among other things, tablet and mobile phone cases, screen protectors, LED lamps, headphones and wireless bluetooth speakers.

Challenger has sold about 240,000 of such power banks, including those under other brands, in the last two years.

Lithium batteries, however, are notorious for overheating.

Experts say this could be due to poor product design or damage during use.

If the battery safety circuitry is not working due to physical damage or poor manufacturing, overcharging and short circuits may occur, said Associate Professor Madhavi Srinivasan from the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Poor design can also lead to fires, said Associate Professor Tseng King Jet, head of the power engineering division at NTU.

"Excess heat built up in the battery could ignite the chemicals within and lead to smoke and fire," he said.

The Consumers Association of Singapore has not received any complaints on the overheating of power banks.

That, however, has not stopped calls among consumers for such products to be regulated in Singapore.

App developer Joash Chee, 39, said it is high time that the local authorities insist on a safety mark for power banks and other portable batteries sold here.

"There is an implied consumer confidence in products sold at local retail stores as opposed to e-marketplaces," he said.

Mr Michael Tan, 44, director of an IT firm, suggested that "the very least" local authorities could do is to insist that products sold here receive the European Union's CE mark of quality assurance.

The CE mark is a manufacturer's declaration that its products comply with the health, safety and environmental protection laws in the European Union.

It is imprinted on the computers and mobile devices of reputable firms such as Apple, Lenovo and Samsung.

"CE is absolutely the minimum standard in suitability for sale. Without the CE certification, the product is downright dangerous," said Mr Tan.

Even CE-certified products are not totally safe. Last year, a Samsung phone battery reportedly caught fire while in a person's pocket. This happened in South Korea.

Nokia, Dell, Apple, Lenovo, Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba, Hitachi and Fujitsu had also recalled products due to overheating batteries.

Product safety regulator Spring Singapore said it is "investigating the issue" when asked if it is looking to regulate the power bank market.

"The CE mark allows for free movement of products within the European market and is based on companies' self declaration. Hence, there is no guarantee that the product bearing a CE mark is safe," a Spring Singapore spokesman said.

This article was published on April 30 in The Straits Times.

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